Sunday, November 28, 2010

"Reclaimed Silver" - is it a marketing gimmick or real Green effort?

I have recently researched a bit online and found out that most jewelers claim to be environmental friendly just because they use reclaimed silver. I love nature but I don't like people using Mother Nature as an excuse to sell. Consumers should be educated on what they are buying.

Here is a summary of what I found online and why I think it makes sense or not. Hope this will be a good reference. 

What is reclaimed silver?

First,  let's talk about silver.

Fine silver is at least 99.9&% pure. Sterling Silver is 92.5% silver, and a variety of alloy that makes up the rest. Mostly copper to increase hardness.

Some sellers claimed that "fine silver is actually 'reclaimed' silver from the tech industry" because it is created of PMC (metal clay) consisting silver particles recycled from other sources.
So NOT true. PMC is invented only in the past decades. Silver is primarily produced through electrolytic copper refining, gold, nickel and zinc refining, and by application of the Parkes process on lead metal obtained from lead ores that contain small amounts of silver.

Surprisingly, only 1/3 of all silver comes from silver mines. The rest comes from mines of other precious metals like copper, gold and zinc as a by-product. So by rebuking silver mines, we are only looking at 30% of silver supplies.

However, metal mining is one of the world's most environmentally destructive industrial sectors, not to mention all the harmful emissions, landscape damage and human rights issues. But the good thing is that, the silver industry recycles most silver for industrial or consumer uses. For example, the findings that we use in our jewelry are made of mostly reclaimed silver.

Once silver has been reclaimed, it can be used to make jewellery in one of two ways: (a) via conventional silversmithing techniques, or (2) via materials such as precious metal clay (PMC) and Art Clay, which is usually softer and less preferred to be used in structured pieces or jewelry that will be constantly subjected to pressure, such as bracelets or rings.

Reclaimed silver used in jewelry casting comes from various sources. It could be bought from suppliers, whose source may be hard to trace back. So can recycled silver jewelry itself ever be truly ethical if we're unclear about the original source?Without certification on silver sourcing, or proper criteria of quality control over the refining process, can we really say reclaimed silver is more ethical? 

Pros of reclaimed silver

One could argue that recycled silver is more environmentally friendly than newly mined silver, because at least you haven't had to dig up any more of the earth's land to get at it.
I have to say I agree. But we need to beware of the implications of using reclaimed silver. And note that reclaimed silver is only preferred if it's refined properly. But again, the refining process is not totally environmental friendly so as a wise consumer, you have to question yourself, should I believe this seller is green just because "reclaimed silver" is used 100% in their collection? Where do they get these silver? And how is it treated?

Also I have to wonder if there is better way to recycle precious metal ourselves through everyday practice. See more below.

Cons of reclaimed silver

Myth #1:
Precious metals can be recycled repeatedly with no degradation in quality, they are a naturally renewable resource.
NOT necessarily so. Precious metals that have been recovered can't usually be directly melted and reused without going through the process of refining. Otherwise they get contaminated with elements that destroy their properties, or the base metals get oxidized from repeated melting, creating porosity in the end
In the process of casting, the rule of thumb is always to limit the use of recycled silver to a maximum of 30%. When jewelry makers said they are proud to be using 100% reclaimed silver, you have to wonder what the quality of their products are.

Myth #2: 
Some sellers claimed, "because our reclaimed gold, silver, and platinum are re-refined back into their pure elements, they are of identical quality to newly mined metals."
NO. Repeat recycling of precious metal could deteriorate quality of certain metal if the metal is not treated properly. As I pointed out just now, repeated melting causes the metal to be porous and contamination of metal could either create silver with different properties. Such as the mix of nickel could cause allergic reaction to some wearer.
In addition, repeat firing of silver causes something called "firescale" or "firestain". When subject to high temperature, the surface of silver and copper will appear to be stained with red or purple. It could be removed by sanding but if you are buying online, beware of this.

Other ways of recycling silver

Scraps of silver can be collected to create beautiful jewelry.
Silver powder can be melted on silver pieces to create textured finishing.
Silver pieces from casting can be hammered and soldered to form new jewelry.
There are many ways to be environmental friendly. You just need to be creative. Being green should not be a marketing gimmick but should be in what we do everyday in our lives.

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