In the near future, your favorite ring or necklace might be formed from someone’s discarded mobile phone or gaming console. 

In 2020, Pandora—one of the world’s largest jewelry manufacturers—announced that by 2025 all of its jewelry would be created from recycled gold and silver sourced, in part, from electronic waste. A growing number of small and large jewelers are turning to more sustainable alternatives to traditional mining practices, including using e waste as a source for precious metals. We’ll explore the impact this newer IT asset recycling trend could have for the environment and jewelry industry, and how electronic recycling companies are responding.  

Shifting Perspectives on Mining Sources

Traditional methods for mining precious metals used in the most common jewelry pieces have recently come under scrutiny, both for environmental and social reasons. Gold mining, for example, is considered one of the most destructive industries in the world. The process of gold mining pollutes natural resources with toxic chemicals like mercury and cyanide, can endanger the health of both workers and those who live in surrounding communities, and causes an extraordinary amount of excess waste. Experts estimate that the effort of mining gold for one wedding ring alone generates as much as 20 tons of waste

In addition to environmental and health concerns, traditional mining has a multitude of potential social and political ramifications. Mining has been linked to human rights violations such as displaced communities, unsafe working conditions, and unethical practices. Considering these factors, many concerned groups have made efforts to educate consumers about the negative impact of irresponsible mining operations, advocate for drastic changes within the mining industry, and promote sustainable alternatives to mining.  

In Pandora’s case, the shift to sustainably recycled materials was called for to save environmental resources and reduce its dependency on “hazardous” mining. The company reported this manufacturing change would reduce CO2 emissions as much as 37,000 tCO2e a year—the equivalent of annual electricity use in 6,000 homes or driving 145 million kilometers in a car.

How IT Asset Recycling Can Turn ‘Junk’ to Jewelry

In addition to signing pledges against “dirty gold,” many jewelry companies (such as Brilliant Earth) are marketing their commitment to use recycled precious metals. By recycling and refining metals into their pure elements, this move toward sustainable sourcing helps solve current issues with supply chain disruptions and reduces the demand for newly mined metals. Compared to traditional mining methods, recycling electronic waste (sometimes called “urban mining”) costs significantly less, is less damaging to the environment, and reuses precious materials that might otherwise remain in a landfill. 

Recycling IT assets and electronic devices such as phones or laptops can recover a surprising amount of gold, silver, copper, platinum, palladium, lithium and cobalt. One metric ton of circuit boards can contain 40 to 800 times the amount of gold and 30 to 40 times the amount of copper mined from one metric ton of ore in the U.S. For every million cell phones that are recycled, 35,000 pounds of copper, 772 pounds of gold, and 33 pounds of palladium could be recovered. Despite this e waste “gold mine,” it’s estimated only 10 to 15 percent of all gold stored in e waste is recovered by recycling. 

Because so many electronic devices use precious metals in their materials, jewelers are now looking toward urban mining and e mining as sources for recycled metals in jewelry. While at this point it can still take over 17 phones to create one wedding ring, electronic recycling companies continue to improve processes, technology and efficiencies to better refine e waste for purposes such as jewelry making. 

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