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How to reduce the environmental impact of jewellery: one maker’s approach

Emma Grace makes sustainable jewellery. She shared with us the result of her research into how a jeweller can reduce the environmental impact of his or her creations.  

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Emma Grace helping a student re-create her old jewellery at The Treasury workshop

 

I took my first step towards a more sustainable jewellery business five years ago when I began running classes to teach people how to up-cycle their old and broken jewellery into new and exciting pieces. I named these workshops ‘The Treasury‘ and have been enjoying teaching the delights of ‘sustainable consumption’ ever since.

Last year, a successful crowd-funding campaign (with Pozible) enabled me to research and develop my first sustainable jewellery collection. Below is a list of all the sustainability factors that I put into practice with this collection. For me, this was an experiment to see just how sustainable I could make my contemporary jewellery while maintaining the quality and aesthetic standards I am committed to. I’m really proud of both the collection that resulted, and the comprehensive way I managed to incorporate my concern for the environment into my work– it’s a blend of style and substance!

100% recycled metal

By using 100% recycled sterling silver and 18ct gold I have eliminated ‘the mining factor’ from this collection of jewellery. The metal has been recycled from various sources including scrap-jewellery, photographic waste, and industrial waste such as e-waste (electric power is dependant on silver contacts in switches and circuit breakers).

Solder free

No soldering (i.e. the joining of metal with heat and chemicals) cuts out the need for chemicals during the making process. It also means the metal is left pure so it can be easily re-worked or re-used at ‘end of life’ without having to go through a refining process.

Emery free

No emery means reduced reliance on ‘consumables’ (i.e. things that can’t be re-used). Instead I use a super-fine file which can be used over and over again. Cutting out emery from the  process also means that my Lemel (metal dust and shavings) is purer, and therefore requires less refining when being recycled.

Non-toxix ‘pickle’

Instead of a chemical ‘pickle’ (cleaning bath), I use a mixture of citric acid and salt to clean my metal after it has been heated.

Up-cycled materials

I use materials from old jewellery, domestic and industrial waste as embellishments on my jewellery pieces.

Zero waste philosophy

The entire sheet or piece of material is taken into consideration when I’m designing. For example, when I cut a circle shape out of a square sheet, I use the remaining material for embellishments and subsequent designs, rather than recycling it (as melting or refining it requires more energy).

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Changeable/upgradeable design

I have designed this collection to lend itself to being developed as the wearer’s tastes and needs evolve over time. Additions such as recycled stones can be attached, embellishments can be added, holes can be drilled to add more ornamentation, paint colour can be changed and designs can be modified.

Made to last

This jewellery is meticulously hand-made using durable materials and robust designs.

Extended producer responsibility

Nothing lasts forever. I believe producers should take responsibility for the things they produce. That’s why I commit to buy back the metal from my jewellery once it has finished its journey with its wearer.

Working with community

I am working with The Ownership Project (a not for profit organisation working with Indigenous people and new migrants to up-skill them with printing expertise), using their waste aluminium printing plates to make jewellery. Part profits of these sales go back to The Ownership Project.

Profits to charity

I donate 20% of my profits to environmental campaigns run buy GetUp! from every piece of jewellery sold featuring the ‘New Seed’ symbol.

Hand made

Everything in this collection is made by hand. Eliminating the use of machinery during the making process means that the use of fossil fuels is drastically reduced.

Awareness raising

Each piece of jewellery has been stamped with an ‘R’ for ‘recycled’ and comes with an information card directing people to read more about the jewellery’s sustainability credentials. In creating this jewellery collection and listing all the points above, it is my hope that I make it easier for other jewellers to adopt some of these practices, and for consumers to learn more about what is involved in the making of a piece of jewellery.

View Emma Grace’s jewellery at http://emmagrace.com.au/

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