Sustainable jewellery making can employ many different techniques to reduce its environmental impact – from using only Fairtrade gold, to producing products locally to cut down the carbon footprint.
However, one of our absolute favourite ways to make jewellery making more sustainable is by implementing circular economy techniques which help reduce the amount of waste our planet is being flooded with and reduce the amount of resources required for production.
In this article, we’ll share why we think circular economy is such an important part of sustainable development today and why its techniques, such as recycling or upcycling, can make jewellery making so much more eco-friendly.
The waste created by our consumption
Over the past several decades, businesses such as fast fashion companies have gotten us used to overconsumption. We perceive buying cheap items and throwing them away shortly as something that’s normal when in reality, no other generations before us were so quick to discard their possessions.
This is resulting in large amounts of waste, which goes unused and sits in a landfill. The more we keep converting untouched habitats into recreational spots or industrial areas, the more waste is also discarded directly into nature, especially the ocean. While some of this waste is litter or items carried by air or water from poorly managed landfills, the regulations on waste disposal area also so lacking in some areas that businesses can dump their waste directly into nature, without being held accountable.
If we hope to preserve the natural environment for future generations and prevent more and more species from becoming extinct as we pollute and take away their habitats, we need a solution – and one of the best solutions available to us today is circular economy.
What is circular economy?
Circular economy is the direct opposite of linear economy, which is the system most businesses operate on nowadays. In a linear economy, materials and resources are made to be used and discarded – they move on a line, towards the landfill. However, circular economy keeps resources and materials in rotation by designing products with this in mind.
In jewellery making, circular economy principles can be applied just like in any other branch, by designing to keep materials in rotation. This can involve using renewable energy or recycling water necessary for production, ensuring all material is used and nothing goes to waste, or helping make use of existing materials which have been discarded by others.
We put a particular emphasis on the latter because of just how much waste there is in the world that can be reformed or repurposed. In the case of materials used in jewellery making, it is always more sustainable to use existing materials than mining and creating new ones – no matter how sustainable the production would be.
One good way to reuse existing materials is recycling, when a material is reformed into a completely new product. Metals in particular are a great recycling candidate because they do not lose quality through the process like paper or plastic does. Therefore, they can be recycled indefinitely!
The only resources required to produce recycled silver, gold or other metals is the energy necessary for the recycling process, which has a much lower impact on the environment. Ideally, this energy would also come from renewable resources, to make the process fully circular in every aspect.
Aside from reforming existing material into new items with recycling, upcycling is another great way to make the production of jewellery more sustainable. This technique is one of the main cornerstones of circular economy.
Upcycling involves finding new, innovative uses for existing items and giving them a new life in this way. The wonderful thing about is it that it takes virtually no resources to do, as little change is usually made to the material itself – and instead of sitting in a landfill in this form, it’s used to create something new and exciting.
We utilise this technique in the making of our sea glass jewellery range – we use washed up pieces of glass that have been smoothed out by the water after being discarded and left in the ocean for several years. We don’t need to process the glass in any way – the sea has already done this job for us.
Designing to be reused and repurposed
Not only is it important to find ways to reuse and recycle existing materials, but we also need to focus on ensuring that one day, the products we make can easily be recycled or upcycled again. That way, materials that have the potential to be kept in rotation for a very long time actually are.
One of the important aspects of this is not mixing two materials together in a way that prevents recycling in the future. We often see this done in fashion with, for example, polyester and cotton blends. We should refrain from making the same mistakes in sustainable jewellery making.
Making it last
Jewellery isn’t the kind of item you’d just discard after one wear – but our approach to it has still changed in recent years and we began to care less for what we already own, seeking more and more possessions. If we hope to make the world – and the lifecycle of sustainable jewellery – circular, this has to change.
We need to learn to care properly for our jewellery so that it truly lasts a lifetime. We also need to be careful when buying any new jewellery, to choose items which look more timeless rather than being driven by trends we’ll get sick of in a few months or years. Investing in jewellery that’s made with quality and timelessness in mind is the best way to do so, as it helps make maintenance easier and gives us the peace of mind that we’ll still want to wear it 10 or 20 years from now.