Dirty Gold: What It Is & How to Help
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Dirty Gold: What It Is & How to Help

Photo by Mark Z. Saludes for Human Rights Watch

Our jewelry is crafted in 96% recycled gold – because we know how destructive the gold mining industry can be. At Brilliant Earth, we say no to ‘dirty gold.’ Here’s why.   

What is Dirty Gold?   

The term ‘dirty gold’ refers to gold mined without regulation or oversight. Typically sourced by small-scale operations without licenses, it can often negatively impact miners, their communities, and the environment.   

What Are the Problems with Gold Mining?   

When not following mining rules and environmental regulations, gold mining can be incredibly harmful to people and the planet. Illegal mines can be developed without the consent of neighboring communities and are frequently marked by poor working conditions. The process of mining itself can create immense amounts of toxic materials that are difficult to remove from the environment. Dirty gold has the power to endanger entire ecosystems.

What Are the Impacts of Dirty Gold?   

1. Pollution  

Chemicals and high temperatures are required to wash out and separate gold from ore. This process creates toxic waste that is often dumped into waterways or dams, which pollutes rivers and oceans with hazardous chemicals.

2. Environmental Destruction  

Dirty gold is mined by digging and shifting the Earth. Runoff is then created when oxygen interacts with soil and sulfuric acid, disrupting biodiversity in ways that are nearly impossible to reverse. Because the toxic chemicals used in dirty gold mining can destroy entire ecosystems and impact people’s health, we partner with and donate to Pure Earth to restore rainforests previously damaged by mining and educate miners on procuring gold without mercury.  

3. Poor Safety   

Miners of dirty gold can face dangerous and unhealthy working conditions that lead to injury and illness from chemical use.   

4. Rights Violations   

Dirty gold operations may evict indigenous landowners to create mines, displacing people and disrupting cultural, spiritual, and community practices.   

Why is Dirty Gold a Challenge to Trace?   

Without proper traceability in place, refiners could mix gold from various sourcesnewly mined gold from responsible sources, above ground or existing gold from recycled sources, and potentially dirty gold. Once gold from these different origins are refined together, they cannot be separated — making it nearly impossible to separate dirty gold from responsible or recycled gold.  

What Is Recycled Gold Jewelry?  

Because of the challenges of tracing the origin of newly mined gold from both responsible and dirty sources, we source recycled gold. Recycled gold jewelry is Brilliant Earth’s approach to traceable and responsible gold, lowering our brand’s environmental footprint. Recycled gold jewelry transforms above-ground gold into new pieces. Circularity, in this context, is key – gold is recovered and reused for new products. Our gold is 98% recycled, and by 2025, we’ll hit 100%.   

What is Brilliant Earth’s Definition of Recycled Gold?  

Brilliant Earth’s gold is sourced from refiners that hold either an RJC Chain of Custody Certification or SCS Recycled Content Certification in addition to certifications for responsible gold. We define recycled gold according to their standards.   

Recycled gold is defined as gold previously refined that has not come directly from a mine in its first life cycle. In addition to secondhand jewelry, recycled materials include end-user, post-consumer products, scrap and waste metals, product manufacturing scraps and dust, and investment gold and gold-bearing products. For gold, this category may also include Good Delivery bars, medallions, and coins that have previously been sold by a refiner to a manufacturer, bank, or consumer market and thereafter returned to a refiner to reclaim the financial value (e.g., 1-kilo bars).   

Newly mined gold is considered responsible gold when it is mined in accordance with regulations. The definition of responsible gold is gold sourced free from threat/terrorist financing. It demonstrates efforts to combat money laundering, terrorist financing, human rights abuses, and respects the environment globally.  

How Brilliant Earth is Driving Industry Change   

We use 98% recycled gold from certified refiners and are on track to reach 100% by 2025. We are committed to achieving circularity across our business by reducing, reusing, and recycling whenever and wherever possible. Recycled metals play a significant role in our circularity journey as does our dedication to crafting quality pieces that can last generations. See our 2022 Mission Report for a complete recap of how far we’ve come and how far we aim to go.  

7 Reasons to Choose Recycled Gold Jewelry  

  1. Dirty gold ruins landscapes. “Open pit” mining often uses dynamite to blow up land, replacing tons of rock and soil (and the existing ecosystem) with an empty crater.  
  2. Gold mining produces toxic waste. In a process called “heap leaching,” an agent (such as cyanide or sulfates) is intentionally spilled over ore. This encourages gold to latch onto the agent and come out of its recesses.  
  3. Gold mining creates mercury pollution. Mercury is used to pry gold free from ore piles. This leaves behind a mercury vapor that can harm the environment and cause neurological damage when breathed in, which particularly affects children and pregnant women.  
  4. Dirty gold mining contaminates water. Toxic waste from mining gold is often dumped into waterways or dams, where it can seep into soil and cause environmental havoc for generations.   
  5. The destruction caused by mining is ongoing. The damage caused by dirty gold mining can last generations, as the ecosystems and communities it destroys take years to rebuild.   
  6. Gold mining destroys habitatsAnimal and plant diversity is endangered by the deforestation and pollution that result from introducing a mine to an ecosystem.  
  7. Dirty gold mining can be the product of child labor. When mining, children can be exposed to dangerous chemicals and hazardous working conditions.   


What Is Dirty Gold Mining?  

Dirty gold mining references illegal mining that often ignores social and environmental safety. It leads to the unregulated release of cyanide, mercury, and other toxic substances.  

Is Recycled Gold Real Gold?  

Yes! It’s real gold that can be even more sustainable and ethical than newly mined gold. 

Does Recycled Gold Have Value?  

Yes! As many times as you melt down your metal, gold will never sacrifice its value. Recycling does not affect purity. In fact, most gold products contain some recycled gold.  

Is Recycled Gold Better?  

Yes, recycled gold is more ethical and sustainable.   

What Is Certified Recycled Gold?  

Certified recycled gold is independently audited gold that’s proven to be from recycled sources.  

Is Recycled Gold Lower Quality?  

No! Recycling doesn’t degrade your gold. It’s just a traceable and more sustainable solution that encourages less mining. In fact, most your gold products probably contain some recycled gold already. 

Title photo courtesy of Mark Z. Saludes for Human Rights Watch.

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Comments (7)

B. Earth Says:
August 25th, 2016 at 11:57 am

Hi Nancy,

Our jewelry specialists would love to answer your questions. Please call us at 1.800.691.0952 or use the live chat on our website. Thanks for your interest!

Nancy Hodge Says:
August 25th, 2016 at 7:29 am

Would like to find out more about the taking of old Jewlery and making it into something beautiful.

Mike Sloothaak Says:
August 1st, 2016 at 11:28 am

Why do humans even need gold jewelry?! Old gold isn’t being thrown into land fills. It’s all being recycled already. The suggestions in this essay don’t reduce the demand for newly mined gold. This whole essay is deceptive and illogical.

B. Earth Says:
July 27th, 2016 at 10:58 am

Hi Dennis,

Yes, our Canadian diamonds originate from the Diavik and Ekati mines. You can learn more about the origins of our diamonds here: http://www.brilliantearth.com/conflict-free-diamonds/. You can search for Canadian diamonds in our diamond search by using the Origin filter under Advanced Filters: http://www.brilliantearth.com/loose-diamonds/search/. You can also create your own ring, earrings, or necklace set with Canadian diamonds on our site. Thanks for your interest!

Dennis Says:
July 26th, 2016 at 12:48 pm

Do you have any jewelry made using diamonds from the Diavik or Ekati Mines in the NWT of Canada [located NE of Yellowknife in the Lac de Gras area]? They can be recognized by the bear carved on the back of the diamonds.

B. Earth Says:
May 31st, 2016 at 12:10 pm

Hi Trisha,

Yes, we use real mined diamonds and real lab created diamonds, which are clearly labeled on our site. Thanks for your interest!

Trisha Says:
May 24th, 2016 at 12:28 pm

Are your diamonds real?