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The True Cost of Gold

Fact sheet text:

Jewelry sales: the largest driver of gold demand

  • US jewelry sales in 2013 totaled $70.65 billion.
  • The jewelry industry accounted for 58 percent of gold demand in 2013.
  • The majority of gold supply (70 percent) came from new mine production.
  • 1 in 5 people who purchase a Valentine’s Day in the US buy jewelry, spending $4.8 billion.
  • 111 retailers have taken the important step of signing on to the No Dirty Gold campaign’s “Golden Rules” for more responsible sourcing of precious metals.
  • The Golden Rules signatory jewelers represent about $9.2 billion in US jewelry sales or about 13 percent of the US jewelry market, and include 8 of the top 10 retail jewelers in the US.
  • The world’s largest jewelry retailer is Signet, which owns Kay, Jared and Zale’s in the US, and Enest Jones and H Samuel in the UK.

Mining: the dirtiest industry

  • A single gold ring generates more than 20 tons of mine waste on average.
  • Cyanide and other deadly toxic chemicals are used to separate gold from waste rock. The average large gold mine uses over 1,900 tons of cyanide per year. A rice grain-sized dose of cyanide can be fatal to humans and even smaller amounts can be fatal to fish.
  • Metal mining was the number one toxic polluter in the United States in 2013, responsible for 47 percent of all reported toxic releases, and releasing more than one billion pounds more toxics than the second highest polluter.
  • Mining companies dump 180 million tonnes of mine waste directly into rivers, lakes and oceans each year.
  • In 2013, the mining sector accounted for approximately 71 percent of all waste deposited on land in the US. The mining industry is one of the few industry sectors to report an increase in waste production between 2003 and 2012, an increase of 16 percent.
  • Open-pit gold mines obliterate the landscape, opening up vast craters and flattening mountaintops. Open-pits gold mines are enormous. The world’s largest open pit, the Bingham Canyon mine in Utah, is visible to astronauts from outer space.
  • Cleanup of a single open-pit mine can cost more than $250 million.
  • Mining represents a tiny fraction of the global workforce, but is responsible for approximately 8 percent of work deaths globally, or about 30 deaths a day.
  • Gold mining companies consume enormous amounts of water. The average gold mine uses enough water to provide the basic water needs for a population equivalent to that of a large U.S. city for a year.
  • Gold mining destroys wildlife habitat and biodiversity. Over a quarter of active mines and exploration sites globally are in or near parks, refuges, and other protected natural areas.
  • Half of gold mined comes from the territories of traditional Indigenous Peoples.

For More Information

Payal Sampat, +1 202 887 1872 x110, psampat@earthworks.org
Alan Septoff, +1 202 887 1872 x105, aseptoff@earthworks.org