There has been something of a recycling revolution in recent years with everything from vinyls to circuit boards finding their way back into commercial circulation under a new guise. It’s second nature to us to recycle materials like plastic and paper, but how does melting down silver work? Fine silver comes from non-renewable natural resources so can anything be done to recycle it?
Read on to find out more about recycled sterling silver jewellery, Aquila’s pledge and why now is the time to change...
1. What is recycled sterling silver?
Recycled sterling silver is precious silver extracted from used metal products. Once the silver is separated from the other metals it is mixed with, it is melted down and reused to make new silver products. If you aren’t sure what sterling silver means, get the low down on everything sterling silver here.
2. Is recycled sterling silver as high quality as non recycled sterling silver?
It certainly is! No purity is lost in the process of extracting sterling silver from used sterling silver items. After the melting down of a sterling silver piece, the clod of silver produced at the end of the process is still pure silver. So if 925 sterling silver jewellery is recycled, 92.5% pure silver is extracted.
In fact if you need further proof collectors often melt down large amounts of silver into molten silver and reset them into blocks as this is more cost effective rather than trying to sell on individual items. No purity of silver is lost in this process either.
3. How do you recycle sterling silver?
It depends. There are two types of silver recycling. The first is small scale silver recycling. Small scale silver recycling is what Aquila’s silversmiths have started doing, using traditional methods of silver extraction.
It’s a meticulous and a time-consuming practice done by hand that sees our local artisans in Indonesia recycle our end of lines, surplus, faulty items and samples.
Below is the small scale silver recycling process followed by our artisans:
- Jewellery is collected then HCI (Hydrochloric acid) is added for around 2 hours so that the silver is liquefied.
- Salt is added turning the solution into a milky white colour.
- An iron plate is used as a catalyst turning the solution into a cement-like substance.
- This cement-like substance is strained, then melted at a high temperature whereby it melts into liquid once more.
- The liquid is poured into a container which holds cold water causing the pure silver to separate, becoming a clod (a lump or mass).
- The clod is fashioned into new jewellery with a fabulous back story!
The second process is large scale recycling, which tends to take place on a commercial scale, at an industrial level. This process obtains large amounts of silver and involves extracting silver incorporated into items used for general industry so that it can be reused in the creation of more industrial products without the need to invest in more raw silver.
The processes used are down to the company recycling the silver, however. As we know, the melting of sterling silver occurs in order to separate the silver from the other metals it is combined with, like copper or zinc. But in these instances different approaches are used including adding acids such as nitric acid or sulfuric acid, applying heat or using an electric current to separate the metals.
4. Can recycling sterling silver help to save energy and greenhouse gas emissions?
Absolutely. When it comes to recycling metals, such processes can save a vast amount of energy and carbon emissions. For example, Friendsoftheearth states that companies that use recycled aluminum save around 95% more energy when producing aluminum products than companies which use raw materials.
During metal mining, an incredible amount of electricity and energy is used to extract metal ore, not to mention the ongoing smelting and processing operations which emit greenhouse gases. The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries claims that recycling metal can cut harmful emissions that cause global warming by anywhere from 300 to 500 million tons. Recycling sterling silver is no different. The process of silver recycling is dramatically less damaging in terms of CO2 emissions and pollution as well as expending far less energy.
5. Can recycling sterling silver help the Amazon rain forest and save animal lives?
Yes and yes. Metal mines consume thousands of acres of land in the Amazon rain forest. Over the years countless trees have been slashed and burned to clear space. As a result of this deforestation, intricate plant and wildlife ecosystems are destroyed, habitats are lost and both animal and plant life perishes. But It isn’t just the Amazon rainforest either. Wherever metals are mined, irreversible effects on the environment occur.
When we look at The Grasberg Mine in Papua, Indonesia the largest gold mine and third-largest copper mine in the world, we can see how the waste minerals and rocks from the mining process can be toxic through acid drainage affecting both animal, plant and human life. It can also affect the air. Toxic substances seep into the air and water. Environmental dangers come about like landslides as a result of mining too, as discussed in this wordpress page devoted to the issue. Recycling metal reduces mining waste by an incredible 97% according to greenmatters.
6. How can I recycle some of my own silver items?
Quite easily. You’ll be surprised how many things in our homes such as coins, electronics, kitchenware, photographs and unused silver from jewellery collections can be recycled. Have a look online for your local gold and silver dealers where you can bring your old silver items along to (check out their site or give them a call first to see which items they take) and in no time your silver items could be melted down and reused, earning you money in the process.
Sterling Silver jewellery can also be sold to jewellery shops who will melt then recast it to create new high quality jewellery. If you are feeling generous you could also donate your jewellery collection to any number of charity shops.
Got an old laptop or phone? Head to a collection centre where the silver parts, as well as other parts of the electronics, can be recycled. Using electrolysis, old photographs you no longer want can be stripped of the silver in them by photo labs too.
Another way you can recycle your silver items is to send them off to a jeweller to be remodeled, as discussed in this article by Marieclaire. What starts off as an unwanted sterling silver necklace could end up your new favourite silver bracelet! Whilst this process gives off up-cycling vibes, it is still considered recycling (check out the matmatch article Recycling vs Upcycling: Processes and Materials for a really clear breakdown and comparison of both terms).
7. Do any brands I know use sustainable recycled silver for their products?
Whilst Walmart have dabbled in sustainable recycled silver with dubious results, Pandora has gone all-in and claimed that by 2025 they will use 100% recycled silver and gold in all of their products.
Here at Aquila Jewellery we are introducing a new recycled sterling silver pledge, starting with our silver hammered hoops. Our aim in the near future is for all of our metals to be recycled metals. Currently, we recycle our own jewellery whenever possible, meaning end of lines, surplus, faulty items, samples etc all go back to our expert silversmiths to be melted down and reused.
Who knew recycled silver could help in so many ways? From saving plants, animal life and ecosystems to reducing CO2 emissions, toxic waste and energy, recycled silver and in fact all recycled metals offer a more sustainable solution to a great environmental problem.
We are dedicated to our sterling silver pledge. We promise it won’t affect the quality of the pieces but it will affect the world around us all for the better. It’s wonderful to give something back to nature after we have borrowed from it for so long.
Aquila, celebrating life’s journeys, embracing sustainable changes.
Interesting article and great to read that companies like yours are being proactive when it comes to the recycling of precious metals – keep up the good work!