What Are the Different Types of Environmentally-Friendly Jewelry?

R. Bargar

Increasing numbers of consumers are seeking green alternatives for a wide range of products including eco-friendly fashion and accessories. As the jewelry industry embraces this trend, everything from unique artisan-crafted jewelry to finely manufactured precious metal and gemstone adornments are being created using ecologically sound practices. Reusing and recycling is a common theme to environmentally-friendly jewelry whether it is fashion jewelry or fine jewelry. Reclaimed precious metals, fair trade gemstones and elements from vintage jewelry may be used in environmentally-friendly jewelry. Vintage elements, like paper beads or even recycled plastic, may also be used.

Recycled glass beads are a popular choice for making environmentally-friendly beaded jewelry.
Recycled glass beads are a popular choice for making environmentally-friendly beaded jewelry.

Wearing vintage or estate jewelry is an environmentally-friendly jewelry choice. Vintage jewelry requires no new natural resources or energy — an example of the principle of reusing and recycling — and is frequently of excellent quality. Antique jewelry dating to the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries is highly collectible and representative of sustainable fashion. In addition, parts from vintage and antique jewelry can be reworked into fashionable new pieces of eco-friendly jewelry. Old findings, beads and brooches all find new life in assemblage jewelry, a fashionable form of handcrafted adornment.

Recycled plastic can be turned into beads for jewelry.
Recycled plastic can be turned into beads for jewelry.

The manufacturing of fine jewelry using precious metals and gemstones has contributed to environmentally unsound conventional mining practices. Mining creates large amounts of waste rock and harmful chemicals when gemstones and precious metals are extracted from the surrounding rock. It takes an estimated 20 tons (18.14 metric tons) of ore to produce just one gold band. Working conditions and wages for miners are frequently substandard, and communities suffer from environmental degradation and poverty. Eco-friendly jewelry manufacturers are seeking solutions to these problems.

Environmentally-friendly fine jewelry uses gold, silver and platinum that are recycled rather than freshly mined. Precious metals can be reclaimed multiple times without suffering any decline in quality. Post-consumer precious metals are reclaimed from industrial sources and from unused jewelry, and the metal is melted and refined, making it ready for new uses. It takes considerably less energy and resources to recycle precious metals, and it lowers the demand for mined metals.

Gemstones used in environmentally-friendly jewelry are frequently acquired from fair trade and environmentally responsible sources. Small scale mines using eco-friendly techniques are being developed for the green jewelry trade. Careful records are kept of origins, working conditions and mining practices and are available to consumers, assuring them that gemstones are not contributing to environmental or social problems. Laboratory produced gemstones, another choice for environmentally-friendly jewelry, have characteristics identical to natural gemstones and cannot be distinguished from the natural stones without special equipment. Other lab created stones mimic natural stones in appearance but have different chemical properties.

Environmentally sound pearl production methods are being developed. Rather than using tiny nuclei created from endangered mussel shells, some producers are using nuclei from oyster shell to start the pearls. Methods that are less destructive to the marine environment are also used for environmentally-friendly cultured pearl farming. Consumers can look for pearl jewelry manufacturers that acquire their cultured pearls from ecologically aware sources.

Eco-friendly fashion jewelry creators use a wide variety of green materials. Recycled glass beads are a popular choice for green jewelry. Made from existing waste glass, these beads require significantly less energy and resources to produce and are frequently handmade. Beach glass, tossed away glass eroded by the action of waves, can be drilled and used as beads or pendants. Unusual materials including recycled paper and plastics might also be turned into components of eco-friendly jewelry.

Many jewelry crafters create unique pieces of eco-friendly wearable art from a wide assortment of imaginative recycled elements. Sustainable materials like reclaimed wood, bamboo and tree seeds are frequently used as the main elements of fashion jewelry. Old silver coins and flatware are reused to make new pieces of environmentally-friendly jewelry. Natural fiber cord or recycled silver wire might be used to hold the elements of the jewelry together.

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Discussion Comments


Recently I discovered an eco-friendly company online that is run by a woman who takes aluminum pop-top tabs from soda cans and turns them into jewelry.

I would never have believed her jewelry line could be so beautiful. She makes pendants, earrings and bracelets out of pop-top tabs and blends them with recycled glass beads and semi-precious stones.

Not only does this woman have a successful business, she has managed to support herself and her two college-age kids while taking recycling to new heights of creativity.


My favorite earth-friendly jewelry is made from beach glass. I found a jewelry store in Key West that has the most creative, stunning pieces of wearable art and every time I go back, I love to see what new pieces the artist has created.

There's just something about the worn glass that begs to tell a story when enhanced with silver!

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