(First published 2007, last updated June 2012)
The word ‘hemp’ for many people still conjures up images primarily related to the mood altering drug, marijuana.
While cannabis sativa subsp. indica is certainly used extensively for medicinal, illicit and ‘recreational’ purposes; industrial hemp (cannabis sativa L. subsp. sativa var. sativa) is a different strain containing very little of the psychoactive substance found in marijuana. You simply cannot get high on industrial hemp.
Industrial hemp is an extraordinarily useful plant that can provide more environmentally friendly food, fiber, fuel, medicinal and building products.
Hemp is incredibly robust to the point in some places it is invasive and is considered a noxious weed. Some varieties are very hardy and able to thrive in saline and heavily degraded soils. It’s these characteristics that make it a great candidate to replace pesticide and herbicide dependent crops such as cotton. Hemp is also a water miser and can be processed into useful products with little energy and without requiring toxic chemicals in processing.
Some additional fascinating facts about hemp:
- Hemp produces impressive yields of material – up to 25 tonnes of dry matter per hectare per year
- It can be used as a fodder for stock
- Hempseed has high levels of protein, carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, essential fatty acids and trace elements.
- Hempseed oil comprises nearly a third of the seeds’ weight; making it a viable source for cooking oil, lighting and bio-fuel.
- Hempseed oil is also beneficial as a body care product and can be made into soaps, conditioners and lotions.
- The stalk provides a very strong, durable and rot resistant fiber that has been used in the shipping industry for centuries. As hemp can grow over ten feet tall, the long fibers are perfect for rope.
- The short fibers of the stalk can be used in textiles as a replacement or blender fiber for cotton.
- The core of the stalk can be used to make paper and organic plastics.
- The woody core, known as hurds, can be mixed with lime, sand, plaster and cement to create a very strong concrete or building bricks.
- The core fiber can also be utilized in producing a fiberboard that is twice as strong as wood-based fiberboard.
- The stalk can be used to make methanol and ethanol
- Hemp can be planted as a crop for restoring the fertility of fields in the process of stock rotation.
- Given its fast growth (up to 13 feet in 90 days), hemp may also be useful in carbon sequestration – taking carbon out of the air and putting it back into the earth.
- Hemp is a great insulation material that can be applied in the wall cavities and roof spaces of houses as a replacement for fiberglass batts.
- The flowers and leaves are used to make medicines for treating many ailments such as glaucoma and cancer sufferers can be prescribed it to ease pain.
.. and that’s just a short list. So given that industrial hemp is so useful, why is the cultivation of it generally banned or severely curtailed in some places? Most hemp products we buy in Western countries are imported.
Hemp was one of the world’s most widespread textile fibre until the invention of the cotton gin (a machine that separates cotton fibers from it’s seeds) in the 19th century. This invention, and the lack of similar equipment for hemp, saw the cotton industry become very powerful, very quickly
However, the cotton industry still saw hemp as a threat. Add to that the confusion with marijuana and it wasn’t too difficult to demonize hemp and consequently have legislation in place to ban its cultivation.
Thankfully, this is changing; but the changes are too slow.
Hemp is truly an amazing plant that Western society should be making far more use of in an effort to reduce our impact on the environment. Hemp products such as some of those mentioned above aren’t outlawed, so we should be doing more to help farmers grow it in our own countries.
Repurposing, also known as reusing, is the second most important action of the green 3 R’s – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
Somewhere stashed in a drawer, I have a selection of ties and I’d be quite happy if they never saw the light of day again; for their intended function anyway.
No offence intended to anyone who actually likes to wear them, but if ever a piece of clothing was a purposeless waste of resources, it’s the neck tie in my opinion. I find it hard to believe I used to wear one day in and day out, even during summer; such is the influence of corporate fashion and old school attitudes.
I think most men who spend much of their lives in office jobs tend to accumulate a pile of ties – and some only get worn once or twice, fashion (planned obsolescence) being such a fickle thing. They are also easy and relatively cheap gifts to give; but gifts that may sometimes not appeal.
If the necktie isn’t used, it will often wind up like my small collection – buried in the deep recesses of a drawer; just in case they are needed again – but how many ties does a non-necktie wearing person need? Probably just one.
So, what to do with these neglected neckties? Repurpose them.
I had totally forgotten about my selection of corporate nooses until I received an email from Laura Martin from Ties That Matter.
Ties That Matter create reasonably priced and unique bags and pillows from neckties that are donated to the organisation. The company also employs women in need to make the creations and donates a percentage of its revenue to help finance support services for the homeless.
Zero waste, recycling and reusing materials, providing work to disadvantaged groups and plowing some of the returns back into the community – this is how more businesses need to work.
The creations Ties That Matter are all originals and look pretty good too:
Ties that Matter – Repurposing neckties
An interesting aside is Ties That Matter’s logo – the hummingbird. Mayan legend says the hummingbird was created out of what was left over after the other birds were made, so that there would be no waste. A very fitting mascot for a company like this.
If you would like to donate old ties to the company, you can get further information here. Ties that Matter can also provide posters and other promotional materials if you would like to organize a “Toss Your Tie” collection event,
Other tie repurposing tips
Aside from bags and pillows, if you’re handy with a needle and thread, here’s some other ways people are breathing new life into neckties:
– Lap rugs
If you run a search on Google using terms like:
tie belt pattern
tie quilt pattern
… you should be able to find instructions on making these items. If you don’t have enough ties, ask around, I’m sure you’ll find plenty :).
If you have any tips for repurposing ties you would like to share, please add them below.
First published May 2010, last updated January 2013
I have a few pairs of old jeans that really should be retired. But it’s hard to give up a pair of old blue jeans – they become like a friend. A ratty friend that your other friends may not want to be seen alongside; but comfortable and familiar nonetheless.
I guess it’s good denim is so durable and old jeans so hard to part with as ‘normal’ cotton isn’t environmentally friendly. 925 gallons (around 3,500 litres) of water are required to produce a single pound of cotton. According to Wikipedia, cotton covers 2.5% of the world’s cultivated land yet uses 16% of the world’s insecticides; more than any other single major crop.
The dyes used in making denim have been known to pollute waterways near jeans factories as has the pumice used for creating the stonewashed/stressed look.
Anyhow, what usually happens at this point with my old jeans is they become rags or I’ll use them as padding when packing boxes as that’s about all they are good for by the time I’m done with them – except perhaps for use in earth friendly insulation.
My father would sometimes cut the legs off of his and extend their life through repurposing the jeans as a pair of shorts.
A few other uses for old jeans I’ve seen around the place:
– Cut them up to use as patches.
– If yours don’t get in the same condition as mine; consider donating them to charity
– Cut off the legs, fill them with sand and sew up the ends to create door snakes to stop draughts.
Nothing really exciting there – but I headed out to Instructables and found a bunch of interesting ways (complete with instructions) to not so much to recycle jeans, but more repurpose or “upcycle” them; including:
- Floor Mat
- Jeans Skirt
- Jeans Pencil Case
- Jeans Apron
- Denim Wallet
- Recycled Denim Shopping Bag
- Denim Gadget Case
- Bed Book Bag
- Garden Tool Bucket Caddy
- Denim Sandals
- Denim Belt
- Mini Backpack
- Jean Purse
- Denim Book Cover
- Laptop Bag
- Turn your old jeans into a quilt
- Denim dog jacket
It’s a bit of a shame we males usually aren’t taught how to sew as we grow up or those who are may be subjected to heckling – it’s such a great skill to have; particularly on the upcycling scene. Oh well, guess it’s never too late to learn as sewing, knitting, crocheting are all great self-sufficiency skills!
Have you created anything interesting by repurposing old jeans?
First published January 2007, updated January 2010
Using current mainstream methods of cultivation, it takes almost a third of a pound (140 grams) of fertilizer and pesticides to produce enough cotton for a single t-shirt. That’s almost the weight of the t-shirt itself!
Additionally, seven the most common pesticides used on cotton are either suspected or confirmed carcinogens.
As the modern cotton industry has evolved, insects and weeds have become increasingly resistant to pesticides, meaning that more of these highly toxic chemicals need to be used.
In regard to water, at least 925 gallons (around 3,500 litres) are required to produce a single pound of cotton; and 60% of the water used to irrigate cotton is lost to evaporation and poor irrigation practices. The Aral Sea in Russia, which was one of the world’s largest freshwater lakes, has practically dried up due to water being diverted for cotton irrigation.
Somewhere in the region of 79 million acres of land is currently utilized for the production of cotton globally. According to Wikipedia, Cotton covers 2.5% of the world’s cultivated land yet uses 16% of the world’s insecticides, more than any other single major crop.
The environment has paid a huge price for our cotton demand.
One of the answers to the excessive pesticide issue was meant to be GM (genetically modified) cotton.
GM cotton containing Bt toxin has become widespread, but already there are indications of some pests adapting, such as the Diamondback moth. Other issues include the problem that Bt Cotton is a patented species owned by a company and this means farmers become heavily reliant on the company – not only for the seed, but for compatible chemicals. In India, there has been a spate of farmer suicides linked to the irresponsible promotion of GM cotton. Added to all this, there is also the risk of GM crops “infecting” non-GM cotton crops.
In recent years, producers have banded together to create an organic, more sustainable cotton industry. Changes to common practices such as using manure to replace synthetic fertilizers, biological pest controls instead of pesticides and more efficient weeding strategies are being developed to help minimize the impact that cotton growing and product has on our planet. Crop rotation is also used to rest the land between plantings. Different crops are planted during the rotation period in order to restore fertility to the soil.
In order for a field to be certified as organic it needs to be pesticide and herbicide free for at least three years and the crop must not be a GM strain.
Cost of organic cotton
While the organic cotton industry has been doing very well, it’s still in its infancy. Growing organic cotton is a labor intensive process. Also, given the crop rotation requirements, it means that growers harvest less. This increased labor and decreased production does reflect in the price of true 100% organic cotton garments, but some companies are minimizing price increases by using blends of organic and non-organic cotton.
When buying organic cotton items, check to see if it’s 100% or blended. If it’s the latter and an amount isn’t stated, there’s a possibility that as little as 1 – 3% of the cotton used in the item is organic. You would be surprised how many big name brands have tried to fool consumers using this strategy. If in doubt, contact the company and ask them straight out “what percentage of organic cotton do you use in X”.
Another issue to watch for is an unfolding scandal with organic cotton from India. In January 2010, a laboratory in Germany reportedly found around 30% of the tested samples of organic cotton from India contained genetically modified (GM) cotton. The presence of genetically modified material is not permitted in certified organic products.
This is a particularly disturbing situation given India produced 61% of the total amount of organic cotton grown globally in 2008/09; so it may be difficult to source products using textiles not from the region. All you can do is to ask the company selling the products pointed questions; perhaps raising the issue of the scandal and asking their response to it.
Organic cotton – truly sustainable?
While the attempts of some cotton producers to produce a more earth-friendly product are surely admirable, it’s my understanding that given the nature of the cotton plant it will always be an industry that requires incredible, and perhaps unsustainable amounts of water. If impact on water supplies is something that’s of great concern to you in your purchase choices; you may want to investigate alternative fibers for your clothing, such as hemp or perhaps a mix of hemp and organic cotton blends.
In Australia, we call flip flops “thongs”, which can mean something completely different in the USA. A slang term for them here is also “Japanese riding boots”. Whatever you call them, they are a really cheap and handy bit of footwear.
Cheap can also refer to construction – as in nasty. The base flip flops you buy here for a few bucks are lucky to last a summer season, usually due to the strap snapping or pulling through the sole. A pair I had recently lasted very well and I wore down to where there was no material left in parts of the sole – so it pays to spend just a few extra bucks and buy “double bung” ones – extra fastenings through the sole.
What are flip flops made of?
Not much good news here – they used to be primarily made from rubber and while rubber flip flops can still be purchased today, they are often made from polyurethane; as are the soles of many shoes. Polyurethane is a number 7 resin, meaning that you can’t throw these into your recycling bin. While there are some companies out there recycling polyurethane, they usually only accept it in large quantities.
Being constructed from polyurethane, which is yet another plastic derived from crude oil, this means they are going to be hanging around the environment for a very, very long time once discarded.
Flip flops were one of the most common items I used to find when cleaning up a section of a local river bank. I picked up dozens of them in a very short stretch, so I’d hate to think how many millions of these things are floating around the waterways of the world.
What can be done with retired flip flops?
The most creative use I’ve seen for flip-flops was when I was a teenager working for a guy with a very old and cantankerous truck.
We were on a long distance trip and the radiator tank blew a hole. In true Aussie bush mechanic tradition, he hammered a stick into the hole to slow the leak. The hole grew bigger, so bigger sticks were used, up until the point they became parts of branches. Then he had a brainstorm. He wrapped part of a flip flop around a branch and hammered that in. the cushioning around the branch prevent the hole from becoming bigger and gave us enough time to hit the next town while cruising at a leisurely 20 miles per hour. That’s a little extreme, so here’s some more practical tips:
– If you’re a crafty type, you can create toys from flip flops
– Shred them for use as stuffing in cushions
– Shredded thongs can also be used as packing materials
– Cushioning for legs of tables and chairs to prevent them from scratching wooden and slate floors
– Place sections under large appliances to prevent floor scratching and in the case of washing machines and dryers, reduce vibration
– Can be cut to size to use as gaskets where heat isn’t an issue
– Fishing floats
– Cut into thin strips, connect with string to create a fly curtain
– Stick the soles into an old pair of socks for use as a rudimentary boot/slipper. Definitely not a fashion statement, but if no-one is looking, who cares :).
– Cut to size for filling in gaps in doors
– Glue a couple of layers together for use as door/gate stops and buffers
These are just a few ideas that I’ve tried, seen or have just sprung to mind to get this thread started. What about you? Do you have a tip for re-using flip flops that are past their prime? Let’s try and keep some of these out of the waste stream for as long as possible – please add your thoughts below!
For part of my school days, I attended a private college with an interesting dress code. For the primary kids, part of the uniform was a suitcoat, tie and shorts. High school students were required to wear a suitcoat, tie and long woolen pants. The dress code was enforced aggressively – and I mean aggressively. It was back in the days of corporal punishment.
Aside from the uniform being horribly expensive, it was also impractical. The town where I lived experienced below freezing temperatures during winter (tough on the primary kids in their shorts) and temperatures over 38 degrees celcius (over 100 degrees fahrenheit) during summer – made things very unpleasant for the high school students. I remember kids literally passing out during hour long outdoor assemblies over summer.
While some organizations have eased up on dress codes in recent years, there’s still many that hold on to old approaches.
I’m not against school or work uniforms if they are affordable or supplied, but a little common sense should be exercised by these organizations when drafting dress codes. For example, being required to wear a tie during summer in many parts of the world is absolutely ridiculous.
There’s a “green” side to this issue too. If staff or students have to dress inappropriately for the climatic conditions, it just adds to energy usage in terms of heating and cooling the building in which they are housed.
It simply doesn’t make sense – consuming extra resources in order to satisfy an need for outdated approaches to conformity and control. These inappropriate dress codes also impact on profits as more energy usage equals increased costs.
Increased costs + uncomfortable staff = lack of productivity and bad business.
An organization can save between 4 and 6% on their heating costs simply by allowing their staff or students to dress appropriately for the conditions and lowering the thermostat in the building by 1 degree fahrenheit.
If your school or company is continuing with old style policies relating to uniforms and dress codes, it can be a difficult issue to tackle as tradition, pride and control play a big role. You’ll need to be subtle in your approach.
Perhaps a submission relating to environmental impact, cost savings and productivity improvements may switch their thinking. Environment is certainly a hot (excuse the pun) issue at the moment and no organization these days wants to be seen as actively contributing to global warming if it’s easily avoidable. The possible savings on electricity could also be a big incentive.
Try it from that angle – you never know, you might even get a raise or special recognition for spearheading the initiative :).
No matter how much we consider ourselves to be individuals, most of us have an innate need to be accepted by whomever we consider to be our peer group and will alter the way we present ourselves and our buying habits accordingly. The following of fashion and trends are often about personal validation, acceptance and self-esteem rather than practicality or economy.
Eco chic is a term becoming increasingly prevelant – it simply means a combination of trendiness and environment. Eco chic is not just the perceived environmental impact of what you wear/have, but how it was made and the hip factor of the company producing it – with the latter being down to effective marketing. While it seems the latest essential fashion accessory is a social conscience, eco chic can be as much, if not more, about social status as it is about environment.
The eco chic mentality goes way beyond clothing – it extends to all aspects of life where having the green, cool brand-name version of anything bought from hip retailers is important – even down to the slogan emblazoned on a shopping bag made from recycled or earth-friendly materials. I’ve seen basic unbranded hemp tote bags selling for as little as $7.50, but up to $30 for the same bag with an eco chic company name or a pithy saying on it stating that the owner is environmentally savvy. You could write “contains earth friendly items” on a plain bag yourself for free :).
The situation reminds me of my dad’s resistance to buying anything with a company name plastered across it. He was of the view that he shouldn’t have to pay to advertise another company’s brand, they should pay him to do so. I must admit I agree with his logic.
For many of the grass-roots type green folk, eco chic really isn’t even on their radar. They just buy green for the sake of the environment or health and their purchase decision has nothing to do with the prestige of the brand; but more the practices of the brand. This doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily compromise on style; but they’ll choose a product based on their own preferences and research rather than on what’s proclaimed as being “in”. Often they’ll shun the eco chic brands due to the shallow associations they feel are connected to it – and will usually save a bundle of money in the process.
I have no problem with eco chic per se; except for the fear that like other trends, it will becomed quickly outdated or that the elitist/trendy aspect will become increasingly more important than the green message. I’m concerned that eco chic will still encourage rampant consumerism. An important part of green living is not just what you purchase, but the amount you consume and discerning between need vs. want.
Does going green really need to be so overtly hip in order to succeed? It probably does in order to get through to some of the marketing soaked generation of today I guess – the doomsday calls of the last 30 years certainly haven’t done the job. People don’t want to be told that consumption is bad, they want to be told they can have their cake and eat it too – and it’s obvious they are prepared to pay for the privilege of what would seem to be consequence free consumption. But we’re living in an age of consequences now, and that should never be understated. I feel at times there needs to be a little more balance in eco-chic brand marketing.
Eco chic certainly exposes more fashion sensitive people to the concept that it’s possible to live a greener life without losing a sense of style (however its defined at that time) and that’s great, but it may also alienate others who might mistakenly feel they cannot afford to go green as eco chic products tend to get the most media attention and can be dreadfully expensive.
Fashion is just such a transient thing – many people shudder at the styles and clothing of 20 or 30 years ago, yet at the time they were ultra-cool and “gotta have”. Fashion passes, functionality remains – go beyond the label, the flock mentality and the packaging when making your green purchase choices and not only the planet, but your wallet will likely thank you for it.
A wave of nostalgia struck me when shopping for socks the other day; memories from my childhood of my mother darning socks that had holes in them. Aside from that memory, I can’t remember the last time I’ve heard of anyone darning or patching socks. I guess it’s because of the price of socks these days – the ones I bought were just over a dollar a pair.
It’s great they are so cheap, but the materials socks are made from these days aren’t particularly environmentally friendly, usually being a polyester and cotton mix. Polyester is a product made from crude oil and mainstream cotton production requires enormous amounts of water and pesticides. Added to that, because of the polyester content, when you throw a sock away, it takes many years to break down in the environment.
I get through about 7 pairs of socks a year I guess, so over my lifetime, that translates to hundreds of pairs of castoff socks – now multiple that by millions of people doing the same and it amounts to a huge pile.
Given this waste, we need to do more with our old socks rather than trashing them; so here’s a few tips:
– I use them as cleaning and polishing rags. They can be particularly handy in hard to clean areas such as blinds and under appliances by slipping your hand into the sock and using it that way.
– Good as whyteboard erasers
– The elasticity makes them great for tying up trees to stakes. After a storm, a couple of small trees in our yard went askew and I used a couple of old long socks to set them straight again. 6 months later and the socks are still holding up to the weight.
– Use them as shoe protectors when storing shoes or traveling
– Outdoor soap on a rope. Probably not the most presentable idea for the home, but great for the shed and garden. Put a bar of soap into a long sock and tie it to an outside tap. After working in the garden, run water over the sock/soap bag, rub it and it will lather up. Great for removing grease from hands!
– Long socks can be cut at the ankle and used as leg or arm warmers
– Have problems with odd socks? It’s a well known fact that washing machines and driers steal them. Keep plain colored odd socks in good condition to one side and no doubt over time you’ll get some matching pairs.
– Place delicates in them before washing instead of using a delicates bag
– Tie a few together to use as a pull toy for your dog
– When painting, slip an old sock over your shoes to prevent paid from splattering them.
– Socks can be used on some dryers as lint catchers – save money on buying lint bags
– There’s all sorts of toys you can make from old socks, including the popular sock puppet enjoyed by generators of young kids. Here’s a couple of other toy ideas – sock monkey – sock doll
– Use as insulation for cans and bottles of cold drinks – also helps to soak up condensation on can or bottle
– Handwarmers and fingerless mittens. Cut off the toes and cut a slit for your thumbs.
– If you have babies just learning to crawl, cut the toes off (the sock of course) and slip the sock tube over your baby’s knees to help protect them.
– Fill up old long socks with sand or rice, sew the end and use as door snakes to prevent drafts.
– Keep a couple of old socks hand to use as gloves when needing to reach into yucky areas
To get more from a pair of socks, I buy the same style and color. As socks tend to wear unevenly and you’ll often end up with a good one and a bad one and by buying the same type, you’ll wind up with spares that you can pair.
By the way, who said that wearing matching socks was law? Throw caution to the wind and make a fashion and consumption statement by wearing unmatched socks!
Do you have a handy tips for ways to use old socks? Please add them below!
By the way, if you’re looking to buy socks that are more environmentally friendly – organic cotton and hemp blends are worth checking into. They are a good deal more expensive, but better wearing from what I’ve read.
Most perfume fragrances are synthetic and often made from toxic petrochemicals derived from crude oil. There are more earth friendly alternatives and it’s easy to make your own natural perfume too!
Personally, I love the scent of a good perfume; but I’ve met many people during my life that not only don’t like it, but it can trigger a very adverse physical reaction. My mother, someone who loved quality perfumes, became very sensitive to artificial fragrances as her kidneys started failing.. and it turns out for very good reason.
The first completely synthetic perfume was unleashed on the market in the 1920’s – it was Chanel No. 5. Its success heralded the dawn of a new era in the perfume industry and most major labels abandoned more traditional and natural fragrance ingredients for the synthetics.
Many perfumes are cocktails of poisons.. it really is that simple. While labeling regulations may require manufacturers to list ingredients, that requirement goes as far as the term “fragrance”. In many countries, manufacturers are permitted not to specify what the fragrance is made up of as it’s a trade secret. And that’s where the really nasty stuff lurks.
A fragrance may be made up of dozens, sometimes over hundred different chemicals – and according to a National Academy of Sciences study from a couple of decades ago; up to 95% of these fragrance chemicals are petrochemicals – derived from crude oil.
So there’s the crude oil factor – and we all know the impact of oil production on the environment; but the petrochemicals the oil is transformed into used by the fragrance industry are even more frightening; particularly the phthalates. Many have been shown in studies to cause serious health problems, mutations and death in animals. Fragrances are even listed on the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences as an indoor pollutant.
What we apply to our skins is our personal choice – but the wider environmental issue comes into play when you consider what happens with these products. Most of them are washed off meaning that they are discharged into aquatic enironments – ultimately our streams, rivers and other waterways.
Earth friendly, natural perfumes
Nature has provided us with an abundance of beautiful scents – Jasmine, ylang ylang, rose geranium, tea rose to name a few and all available as essential oils. If you’re sensitive about animal products, there’s even vegan perfumes available that don’t make use of animal musk or whale ambergis; but rather just natural bases of essential plant oils and natural preservatives.
Make your own natural perfumes
Get creative, save money and make your own earth friendly perfumes! Here’s a basic recipe.
You’ll need a small dark glass bottle for storing your fragrance creation is as sunlight will quickly kill the scent if you store it in clear glass.
Your favorite essential oil/s
2 1/2 oz of Vodka
2 tablespoons of Distilled Water
It will take a little experimentation to achieve the right potency to suit your tastes; so start out with a single essential oil for practice – perhaps 4-8 drops. The general process is:
Add the essential oil to the vodka, stirring slowly until the oil is fully mixed in; then let sit for 2 days. After this time, add the distilled water, slowly stirring it through; then let it sit another couple of days; longer for a more potent mix. Done!
Don’t forget to write down the essential oils and numbers of drops you use in each batch while refining your own natural perfume blend!
Nothing says “I love you” like a diamond and gold ring; after all, diamonds are forever – or so we are led to believe. The gemstones and precious metals we adorn ourselves with don’t just pack a wallop on our wallets, but many jewelry pieces also come at a horrible cost to the environment.
While jewelry has been an attraction for humanity for millennia, the market for precious stones and metals has certainly increased over the last hundred years; thanks not just to their extensive use in industry, but also to clever marketing.
For example, did you know that wedding rings for men in western culture are a tradition born of the 20th century and the company that created that “tradition”, De Beers, is also the same company that has convinced us that a gift of diamonds equates to love? In the late 1930’s De Beers increased sales of diamonds by 55 percent over three years by instilling this notion in people’s minds. They were also the company that coined the term “diamonds are forever”.
How exactly does the purchase of that half carat diamond ring prove your love for someone? How does that differ from a beautiful colored glass piece? In my opinion, in no way at all – it’s just that the jewelry industry has convinced us otherwise.
While diamonds have always been appreciated, they weren’t necessarily the most prized of gems. In fact, the ancient Egyptians often favored colored glass over precious stones.
Purchasing massed produced gemstone based jewelry is certainly not a financial investment either – diamond rings are like new cars; once you purchase the ring, it loses value. If you’ve ever tried to sell a diamond ring, unless it was particularly unique or it was purchased many years ago, the chances are you’ll never get what you paid for it.
Looking at it from an environmental angle; the gemstone and precious metals industries destroys thousands of acres of habitat each year. In some mining and refining processes, toxic chemicals are used. For instance, the amount of mercury entering the environment from gold mining activities is estimated to be in the hundreds of tons annually. Cyanide is another commonly used toxin in the processing of gold ore.
Another poison, Arsenic, occurs naturally and is often found among gold and silver bearing minerals. Once the ore is mined, it can be released into the surface environment and dissolve in ground/surface water; poisoning water a great distance from the mining operation.
To make a simple gold ring takes somewhere in the region of 5 tons of water and generates up to 20 tons of mine waste.
Opal mining in Australia over 100 years has created a moonscape type environment in the opal fields. Sapphire mining has had similar impacts. Ruby mining is often carried out close to rivers; threatening water supplies with contamination from effluent.
There can also a great human cost. The term ‘blood diamonds’ refers to the trade of diamonds where the proceeds are used to that help fund wars in Africa. With nearly 50% of the world’s diamonds coming from Africa, it’s not unknown for blood diamonds to wind up in the stores of major jewelry chains. Aside from financing wars; in many diamond mines, working conditions are deplorable and the miners paid a pittance.
There are alternatives – earth friendly jewelry is becoming increasingly popular. Instead of precious metals and gemstones, components such as glass, shells and recycled materials are used.
There are many ways to show someone you love them, but if you do settle on precious metal/gem stone jewelry and are concerned about your purchase’s impact on the environment; consider these two ideas:
a) Find socially responsible jewelers who are certified to be sourcing precious metals and gemstones in an ecologically and socially responsible manner. While no form of mining can be considered truly environmentally friendly, some responsible mining companies are making an effort to ensure that damage to the environment is minimal, effluent properly managed, workers fairly treated and areas mined rehabilitated.
b) consider buying a pre-owned ring; or even a couple of pieces. Take them to a jeweler and have them make something new from it – if you purchase wisely, you might save a stack of cash and wind up with a truly original piece!
I don’t think we’ll ever change our fascination with things that sparkle, but something we do need to change is our gullibility for allowing companies to convince us of what we need to give to make someone feel special and to demonstrate our depth of feeling; or allowing them to dictate to us what is beautiful, precious and “forever”.