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This blog post originally appeared in Earth Island Journal.

Valentine’s Day is almost here. Whatever your stance on consumerism or manufactured holidays, it’s one of the biggest gift giving days of the year.  Millions of people in the United States and around the world will be expressing their love with gifts.

According to National Jeweler, 20 percent of these gift-givers will be giving jewelry, and they’ll spend $4 billion doing so. Unfortunately, much of this Valentine’s Day jewelry is tarnished with dirty gold that's tarnished by human rights abuses and pollution.

What’s dirty gold? 

Gold mining around the world too often occurs over the express opposition of locally impacted communities. That’s understandable because mining sometimes requires the wholesale destruction and resettlement of communities. From theDemocratic Republic of Congo to Colombia, gold mining has been linked to human rights violations, child labor, and the financing of violent conflict.

Metal mining, and gold mining in particular, is the most environmentally destructive industry on earth, is the most environmentally destructive industry on earth. Producing a single gold ring creates at least 20 tons of mine waste. The Environmental Protection Agency’s data show that metal mining is the largest toxic polluter in the United States. It is, by far, the largest releaser of toxic heavy metals like mercury, arsenic, and lead and many other toxic chemicals. The average gold mine uses 1,900 tons of cyanide per year.  Even after a mine is closed, it often will pollute water forever, costing billions of dollars to treat, assuming it’s required to treat the water at all.

Here are just a few examples of gold mining’s destructive impacts around the world:

  • Bristol Bay, Alaska: If developed, the proposed Pebble Mine would destroy miles of streams that are home to the world’s largest sockeye salmon population. This gold mine would devastate a great piece of American wilderness.
  • Cajamarca, Peru: Newmont’s proposed Conga mine has provoked immense social unrest and protests. Residents oppose the enormous threat the mine poses to their limited water supply.
  • Papua New Guinea: The Ok Tedi gold and copper mine, dumps on average, 20 million tons of waste each year. The resulting water contamination has reduced the local fish population by 60 to 80 percent. 

Jewelry’s influence over dirty gold

Because jewelry consumes the majority of newly-mined gold in the United States and around the world, jewelry retailers, and by extension jewelry buyers, are in a powerful position to influence mining industry behavior.

That’s why Earthworks started the No Dirty Gold campaign to educate and encourage jewelry retailers and consumers to use their market power to pressure the mining industry to clean up its act.

Over 100,000 people have signed the No Dirty Gold pledge to end destructive gold and metal mining practices. And some good news just in time for Valentine’s Day — over 100 of the world’s leading jewelry retailers have committed to more responsible metals sourcing by signing the No Dirty Gold campaign’s Golden Rules.

That means many of the world’s largest and most prominent jewelry retailers including Tiffany & Co., and Target have committed to steps to clean up irresponsible gold mining. These include studying their metals supply chains, improving their supplier sourcing criteria, increasing recycled gold content, and seeking more responsibly produced metals.

What Can I Do?

So what’s an eco-conscious Valentine’s day gift-giver to do? It’s fine to go for the classic Valentine’s Day gifts like jewelry, flowers, and chocolate, just make sure they are eco-friendly. Here are some options:

  • Vintage jewelry or recycled gold.
  • Flowers: Organic cut stems to avoid pesticides, or consider a potted plant (or bulbs for delayed gratification!)
  • Fair trade chocolate: You’ve probably heard of the concerns around child and slave labor in countries where cocoa beans are being grown
  • Experiences, not products: Your love is sure to remember that romantic trip to the theatre more than a box of chocolates.
  • A romantic dinner with locally grown foods: Show your love for your local farmer at the same time!

And for those that want to help put a stop to dirty gold here’s what they can do: