Precious metals are used in a wide variety of industries and professional sectors, from medicine to the automotive industry, to jewelry and art. With this increased demand for metals like gold, silver, platinum, and palladium, it is important that we continue to develop more sustainable practices for mining, extracting, and processing these precious metals.
For this post, we’re going to delve into the range of uses for precious metals and also what efforts are being undertaken to make sure that we’re doing less damage to the environment as we obtain these materials. It’s our responsibility and duty to cover topics like these here at MF Metal.
Why Are Precious Metals So Special?
Let’s face it, besides precious gemstones like diamonds, rubies, and emeralds, precious metals have been sought out for millennia for everything from currency to ritual objects.
Today, precious metals continue to be purchased as proof coins, bullion, circulating and uncirculated coins, pressed and poured bars, and ingots.
But why are precious metals so special?
Practical Uses for Precious Metals
Precious metals have a few characteristics which make them highly sought after. This includes the following:
- Highly dense
- High melting points
- Softness (but not weakness)
- Less reactive
Given these characteristics, precious metal usability extends beyond currency to other practical purposes, which can include:
- Catalytic converters to reduce exhaust emissions.
- Cancer treatment
- Sustainable energy sector
- Jewelry and fine arts
- Chemical sector
Sustainable Sourcing and Production
There are “green” friendly processes available for the sourcing and production of precious metals. For example, refining and recycling allow for a circular economy. The practice of recycling uses electrolysis, hydrometallurgy, pyrometallurgy, and/or electrowinning to reclaim discarded precious metals from cell phones or computers.
Electrolysis purifies precious metals back to tangible forms. Hydrometallurgy allows discarded items, such as outdated devices, to be repurposed, decreasing their footprint in waste facilities. This “urban mining” finds discarded precious metals located in the over 40 million tons of annual electronics waste and uses flash joule heating, which is less expensive, more effective, uses less energy than traditional smelting, and is not as harmful to humans.
Precious metals also have an important role in the continued development of sustainable energy sources such as:
- Solar Energy
- Smart Vehicles
- Hydrogen-Based Economy
As more and more of these metals are being required for their various uses, scientists continue to explore new methods that will decrease the impact that these processes have on the environment, including acid-less processing.
Ethical Sourcing and Fair Trade
Many precious metals organizations have encouraged this transformation within the industry and are excited to be moving towards a more sustainable model for sourcing and sale. Some of the groups that have joined the fight for sustainability include the following:
- ARM – The Alliance for Responsible Mining has created a certification system for international standards regarding working conditions and community development, where changes have occurred in over 15 countries to date. They currently have two degrees of certification: A high-level Fairmined Standard and a slightly more accessible and lenient CRAFT Code.
- Jewelers of America – This group releases guides and publications on diamond and gold sourcing to its registered members and they have also established the Responsible Jewelry Council with two standards for members.
- Ethical Gold Foundation – The Ethical Gold Foundation works in California to improve water, sanitation, inequalities, and sustainability for those workers that are marginalized such as children and indigenous people.
The Future of Sustainability in the Precious Metals Industry
We only have one planet and unfortunately, the human race has done extensive damage to Mother Earth over the years. However, many industries, such as the precious metals industry, are moving towards a more sustainable and “green” future.
Sustainability, carbon footprints, and climate change have been hot topics of late, but the precious metals industry continues to address these issues in a positive way. Rather than just making surface-level changes, the precious metals industry is moving towards better sourcing, production, and fair trade practices which will impact all of us in positive ways.
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