When a plastic bottle manufacturer uses recycled PET to make a bottle, there is a direct correlation between this activity and the number of plastic bottles that are required to be manufactured using virgin material. More recycled means less new plastic. There has been a sustainability gain. 

This logic simply does not follow in the gold market. 

Gold is money and because gold is money, miners will mine as much gold as they can, within the context of financial and geopolitical backdrops. There is not a corollary impact whereby using more recycled gold reduces the volume of gold mined.  On a macro level, there is therefore no sustainability gain from using recycled gold.

As a family business in continuous operation since 1760, the Betts Group has been recycling gold for over quarter of a millennium. Gold has in fact been recycled for thousands of years and as a recycling market, it must be one of the most efficient in the world. Very very little gold is thrown away.  So, recycled gold does form a very important part of global gold supply, but this is absolutely nothing new. 

In fact the use of recycled gold alongside newly mined material has been the industry norm for centuries. What has changed is the amount of noise about using recycled gold. 

SMO Gold recycled melted gold pour

In the past decade, there have been a plethora of major brands burnishing their ‘green’ credentials by claiming to only use recyled gold and make highly questionable claims about the beneficial impact of this strategy on the planet.

Whilst the noise about recycled gold have increased exponentially, the reality is that the amount of recycled gold in the market has not increased either in real terms or as a proportion of gold supply. According to World Gold Council supply & demand data, in 2010, recycled gold accounted for 1671t (over 38%). In 2023, this number was 1239t (25%). 

There is nothing wrong with using exclusively recycled gold, but there is also nothing especially laudable about it, it is simply securing a piece of a pre-existing supply.

Whilst the OECD and groups such as the Precious Metals Impact Forum are working on a new and clearer definition of recycled gold, this has not yet been finalised. At present, there is no clear definition of recycled gold and no regulatory framework around it. This is problematic. 

Whilst consumers likely have very positive perceptions of what ‘recycled’ means, the reality is that it is very rare indeed to be able to trace the provenance of recycled gold in a systematic or detailed way.

There is really very little to stop recently mined material, or material from highly problematic sources being re-alloyed once, defined as recycled and entering the supply chain (as evidenced by Ojopúblico’s investigation into illegally mined South American gold continuing to enter the supply chain over the past decade). 

The vital importance of having a robust chain of custody and full transparency in the gold supply chain has never been clearer. Without full transparency, there can be no true accountability. This principle applies both in mined gold and recycled gold. If provenance can be traced, in detail, to post-consumer waste that was destined for landfill or destruction, then there is a genuine sustainability benefit to be evidenced from using recycled gold. This type of material is, however, extremely rare and only accounts for a tiny proportion of global supply.

It is true that the carbon emissions from recycled gold are considerably lower than those of newly mined material, but even in this area, such claims require further scrutiny and are often hugely overblown.

Most ‘data’ around recycled gold is based on generalisations and assumptions. In reality, the carbon emissions created by recycling gold vary enormously. The source of the gold being recycled, and whether a pyro-metallurgical or hydro-metallurgical process has been used to recover the gold will create enormous variances in this area. Many people also conveniently forget that all recycled gold has also been mined, often quite recently. 

The gold that is mined today is the recycled gold of tomorrow. Newly mined gold represents a substantial majority of global gold supply. To ignore these facts and focus solely on recycled gold is blinkered. Focussing on responsibly operated large scale mines and exerting demand-side pressure to encourage and demand continual improvement of ESG standards is the most viable strategy to achieve sustainability gains at a global level.  

The act of mining itself is not sustainable. Once a resource has gone, the mine will close. But well-run corporate mines can absolutely have sustainable positive social and environmental impacts in the regions they operate. Sourcing only recycled gold ignores the hugely beneficial social impacts in terms wealth generation, educational and healthcare benefits in local communities that can be demonstrated by progressive corporate miners.


SMO Gold branded gold bar

For Jewellery MAKERS


Whether you make individual gold pieces, jewellery findings & fittings or use gold as a complement to other materials, you could be creating with SMO Gold.

SMO gold can be supplied to makers & manufacturers directly from an approved LBMA refinery. Alternatively, it can be alloyed into grain, wrought product, rings, chain or castings for delivery to makers & artisans. We offer a comprehensive range of alloys & colours, and can custom make to specific requirements.