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Just What Is Recycled Gold, Anyway?

David Siminski, vice president of sales and marketing for United Precious Metal Refining, makes his living from so-called recycled gold. But he’ll be the first to admit that term has no real definition.

“The word recycled is the problem,” he says. “It means different things to different people. Ask 10 people what it means, and you’ll get 10 different answers.

Recycled “is just not a great term for the product,” he adds. “When people think of recycling, they think of items that are put in the garbage, like a milk jug.”

He notes all the organizations and groups that certify recycled gold have different definitions of the term. United Precious Metals gets most of its “scrap” from jewelers, pawnshops, and other secondhand sources, which would meet most of the current definitions. Yet, he says that some definitions exclude “investment” products, such as gold bars or Krugerrands, while others don’t.

“There’s not a lot of synergy between them all,” he says. “and that’s part of the problem.”

(On the flip side, some websites and retailers just proclaim that they sell recycled gold, with no transparency about how that’s defined, determined, or certified.)

Even though most estimates put the amount of recycled gold at around 30%–40% of the metal supply, that’s not enough to meet the current demand for it, he says.

“The more constraints you put on [what recycled gold is], the less you’re able to feed the jeweler’s thirst for it,” he says.

Siminski recently appeared on a National Jeweler webinar on gold sourcing, where his fellow panelists agreed.

“Some people wrongly assume that recycled gold is old gold,” said Laura Galvis, market development associate for the Alliance for Responsible Mining, which markets Fairmined gold. “It could be mined just a few weeks ago. Some of the more recognized definitions of recycled gold is just gold that is refined. There’s no visibility of the conditions of where it was mined.”

She noted that newly mined gold can be considered responsible too—given 30 million people depend on that industry.

Agreed designer Dana Bronfman on the same webinar: “The customer doesn’t understand that the gold is being recycled for economic reasons, not sustainability. No one throws away gold.”

She said that some sellers of recycled gold could “be taking advantage of the innocence of [customers]. But to be fair, I think a lot of people that are explaining it to them don’t understand it either.”

Lately, a series of articles have appeared calling recycled gold a form of greenwashing. (JCK examined the pros and cons of that argument here.)

While Siminski doesn’t agree, he adds, “there’s this idea in the jewelry industry that all mining is bad. But all gold came out of the ground.”

He notes that buying recycled gold hasn’t been shown to result in “less holes” or a lower overall planetary carbon footprint.

What Siminski would like to see—rather than the industry continually getting hung up on the fuzzy term recycled—is a general commitment to selling certified ethical gold.

“It should be about having your gold being certified responsibly and ethically sourced and non-conflict,” he says. “If your suppliers have done their due diligence, and they are working with a third-party auditor, that should be good.”

(Photo: Getty Images)

By: Rob Bates


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