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Mining associations and human rights groups are calling for a redefinition of the term ‘recycling’ when it comes to gold, warning that current usage risks greenwashing.

In an open letter, the Alliance for Responsible Mining, Artisanal Gold Council, the Society for Threatened Peoples and other concerned organisations also said the current use of the term is damaging small scale mining operations.

“Gold is mined for its value and plays a role as a currency, which unlike other metals or materials, does not prevent the pressure on mining from being reduced by increased ‘recycled’ supply,” read the letter.

It said the substitution of ‘recycled’ material for mined resources to boost green credentials does not work for gold as it is not discarded as ‘waste’ like other metals.

“We have yet to see a landfill full of gold jewellery,” it added, noting that the amount of ‘recycled’ gold accredited by major refineries had grown by 34% between 2018 and 2021 even as mining production fell by 2%.

‘Recycled’ gold now constitutes a quarter of the global supply, said the letter, with the term often used to claim a zero-carbon footprint. It also said this misuse was discouraging more recycling of electrical waste.

The groups said that sourcing only this ‘recycled’ gold threatened artisanal and small-scale mines that were vital to the livelihoods of 100 million people worldwide. It added that poor due diligence meant such gold can be linked to organised crime, child labour and money laundering.

Signatories called for a definition of recycled gold consistent with the legal terms used in the UK and EU and for more transparency about the real impacts of using this gold.

Charles Betts, managing director of Betts Metals, said the industry had been recycling precious metals for over a quarter of a millennium. “I am very squarely in favour of recycling, but there is concerning scope for greenwashing in this area,” he said, noting that very little gold is thrown away.

“Consequently, the amount of gold recycled does not have any real direct impact on the amount of gold mined, and bold claims about macro-level sustainability benefits from using ‘only’ recycled gold simply don’t stack up.”

Betts said where a brand exclusively used recycled gold, it was simply taking pre-existing recycled gold from the market, with unscrupulous refiners or manufacturers finding little to stop them re-melting virgin material and defining it as recycled.



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