In fact, the manufacture of an average gold ring generates more than 20 tons of waste. While the list of retailers aligned in their opposition to dirty gold continues to grow, most gold is still quite dirty. Most of the world's gold is extracted from open pit mines, where huge volumes of land are extracted and processed for trace elements. Earthworks estimates that, to produce enough raw gold to make a single ring, 20 tons of rock and soil are extracted and discarded.
Much of this waste contains mercury and cyanide, which are used to extract gold from rock. The resulting erosion clogs streams and rivers and can eventually contaminate marine ecosystems deep below the mine. Exposing the depths of the earth to air and water also causes chemical reactions that produce sulfuric acid, which can seep into drainage systems. Air quality is also compromised by gold mining, which releases hundreds of tons of elemental mercury into the air every year.
Mining has been identified as one of the human activities that can have a negative impact on the quality of the environment. As a process that eliminates soil and vegetation and produces burials under waste disposal sites, mining destroys natural ecosystems. Therefore, activists see Valentine's Day as an excellent opportunity to educate consumers and crack down on the dirty gold trade. Mines must operate wastewater treatment plants to remove cyanide, mercury and other toxins from the water used for mining, and a failure in the treatment plant could also cause catastrophic contamination of the surrounding landscape.
The ore collected from gold mines is dissolved using a non-toxic reagent before the gold is recovered from the ore using polymer. This process is particularly harmful to the environment, violates the principle of sustainable development, consumes large amounts of water and energy, contributes to global warming, emits hydrogen cyanide and creates a swamp of hazardous waste. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the development of a proposed gold and copper mine in Bristol Bay, Alaska, would destroy at least 24 miles of streams that support the world's largest red salmon fishery.
Since gold is a precious metal found in small quantities, gold mining operations tend to cover large areas and can therefore cause environmental damage over a geographically wide area. Unfortunately, mercury used in artisanal and small-scale gold mining operations can become airborne and pollute both air and water. While the EPA strives to remedy and restore nearly countless mines in the United States, and as activists work to stop the wave of demand in the gold industry, efforts are being made to develop more open pit mines. Brilliant Earth, Leber Jeweler and Toby Pomeroy are three companies that have abandoned new gold and have chosen instead to sell only recycled and second-hand material, thus eliminating mining from the equation.
This form of small-scale gold mining has little effect on the body of water, but the large-scale practice of extracting gold from the mineral can have enormous negative effects on water quality.