It’s Time to Ask Whether We’re Buying Ethically Mined Crystals
Crystals have become a hot commodity, as an increasing number of people are realizing their multi-faceted healing benefits. This has come to include celebrities, those trying to capitalize off their demand, and the average Joe. But when a natural resource becomes so valued, it’s probably time to start asking whether we’re buying ethically mined crystals or conflict stones.
Buyers and sellers of gems and minerals converge annually in Tucson, Ariz. for arguably the largest convention of its kind. There, minerals are brought in from across the globe, sold to private collectors, or shop owners around the country. Attendees find large specimens, themed displays, and some of the most beautiful examples of just about every gem and mineral known to man.
But where do they all come from and how do they get there? That was a question The New Republic recently asked, wondering whether the acquisition of healing crystals should be viewed through the same lens as conflict diamonds.
And it’s a shrewd question, especially now that the industry has become such a profitable one, in which crystals appreciate at mercurial rates. In fact, it’s not unheard of for large, rarer specimens to double in value over the course of a few years – specimens that can fetch millions.
But with such value ascribed to these rocks, one would imagine there to be a paper trail delineating ownership and harvesting, though this is rarely the case. And those who supposedly have trusted dealers, refuse to reveal their names out of fear their competition will start buying from them, subsequently driving up their cost.
Ethically Mined Gemstones and Conflict Crystals
There are a number of regions throughout the world known for being rich sources of particular stones. One of the world’s largest quartz deposits is located between Arkansas and Oklahoma, and is home to Wegner Quartz Crystal Mines.
In 1978, Richard Wegner settled in western Arkansas in the Ouachita Mountain Range, just south of the Ozarks, before discovering his property sat on a vast bed of quartz. Wegner studied earth science, and refrained from divulging news of his property’s geologic bounty to any commercial mining operations, in order to preserve the environmental sanctity of his land.
Wegner excavated by hand before quickly realizing he needed heavy-duty equipment to keep up with the demand he was seeing at gem shows, most notably the one in Tucson.
Today, Wegner’s property continues to produce, though his primary goal is to find rare and unusual specimens. He has since bought and filled in the excavation of old mines to preserve the environment, while also planting tens of thousands of trees to offset carbon emissions accrued over the years.
But unfortunately, not all excavations are as conscientious as Wegner’s. Often gems and crystals are mined as byproducts of companies digging for more precious minerals, such as gold, copper, and cobalt. And saying these operations are detrimental to the environment would be an understatement.
Not only do these strip-mining jobs dump tons of toxic waste into bodies of water and the surrounding environment, but often they have destructive effects on local economies.
In Myanmar, the excavation of jade has become a humanitarian crisis nearly on par with blood diamond conflicts in Africa. There, in the foothills of the Kachin region between India and China, locals risk their lives on a daily basis to find small specimens of the gem, left in the wake of large mining operations.
Caught in the middle of a geopolitical struggle and dangerous environmental conditions, the gem is essentially the country’s only resource, and the primary source of all jade in the world. But despite the plethora of money the mineral fetches on the international market – some $31 billion in 2014 – most profit goes into the pockets of corporations or toward funding a war between guerillas and the military.
But the damage doesn’t stop there, mining operations in Myanmar are also environmentally destructive. Environmental protection laws go unenforced, decimating the land, while mountains are reduced to rubble.
But the issue isn’t just abroad, domestic mining operations are equally damaging to the Earth. New Mexico is notorious for its environmentally harmful copper mines that just so happen to produce crystals and precious gems as well. These mines can leak heavy metal byproducts and acids into the water table, or require massive resources to contain them.
And according to The New Republic, the valuable byproducts that are sold to the crystal, gem, and mineral industry aren’t disclosed, so there’s no way of telling if they came from one of these strip-mines.
The Berkeley Pit in Montana is another infamous mine in the U.S. known for its horrific environmental track record. Once a highly profitable source of iron ore, it is now tapped of precious resources and filled with highly toxic water. The water is so poisonous that authorities regularly fire guns to scare away birds, after several hundred geese died in 1995 when they stopped to rest on the water.
We Have to Demand Ethically Mined Gemstones and Crystals
How can a crystal have healing power if someone’s life was put at risk or killed to get it into your hands? If anything, it could retain that negative energy, defeating the purpose of buying it in the first place. If a child, paid next to nothing and forced to work in a mine, excavated your crystal, how can it have the potential to heal? Wouldn’t that negative energy instead be passed on to you?
This is why we must demand ethical standards and a clear lineage ensuring they’ve been properly sourced.
The aforementioned Wegner Quartz Mine in Arkansas is a great example of an operation willing to take the extra step to ensure ethical practices, while also being mindful of its environmental impact. This model needs to continue.
Many have started to petition some of the more popular companies that sell crystals and precious gem packages to ensure their crystals are being sourced properly and ethically. Often these companies allege their crystals have been cleansed with sage and reiki, but does that mean anything if the crystal came from a mine pillaging and polluting the planet?
It’s time to demand ethically sourced crystals from suppliers and refuse those from questionable or unknown mines. Collective action can change disreputable practices and lead to a better future.
Eliminate Trash From Your Life By Going Zero Waste
We live in a wasteful society that solves every inconvenience with a disposable product. Plastic bags, cutlery, Tupperware, packaging; all of these conveniences add up, don’t easily biodegrade, and are often unable to be recycled. Not to mention, all of these products are traditionally made from oil, creating an incredibly unsustainable, dirty, and environmentally devastating cycle. But there are people working to solve this crisis by eliminating trash from their lives and showing the world how to go zero waste.
The Zero Waste Lifestyle
One of the icons of the zero-waste home movement, Bea Johnson, implemented a minimalist mindset within her family, that cut her household’s annual waste down to about a 12-oz. jar of a random assortment of plastics. She has inspired her family to commit to this goal and in so doing, saved money, created a healthy lifestyle, and drastically reduced their carbon footprint.
Her first and foremost rule is to refuse anything you do not need. By saying no to disposable plastics and paper, you are doing your part in eliminating the demand for those products.
Johnson says zero waste doesn’t mean more, but rather less recycling, by preventing waste in the first place. The majority of plastics that can be recycled can only go through that process one time before they end up in landfill.
When it comes to household plastics, glass jars, bowls and bottles make convenient, reusable replacements. And when you go to the grocery store, buying non-perishable foods in bulk to fill those glass jars saves time, money, and the environment.
Zero waste home enthusiasts are thrifty when it comes to toiletries and beauty products. Without sacrificing hygiene, it’s possible to make homemade versions of toothpaste, make-up and facial lotions. Buying castile soap in bulk is their secret to replacing household cleaners, which can double as soap for the shower. And baking soda is another multi-faceted product that has endless applications for cleanliness.
After implementing these zero waste lifestyle changes in her family’s routine, Johnson found they were healthier due to a lack of chemicals in the household and more mindful eating habits.
She also found her family saved about 40 percent of their income compared to prior habits. This allowed them to save money to invest in renewable energy through solar panels, contributing to future conservation and savings. It also allows her family to take vacations more often, cultivating a conscious lifestyle that values experience over material goods.
Cities Implementing Zero Waste Living
A number of cities passed, or are in the process of passing, legislation that aims to target zero waste living goals within the coming years. Some cities, including San Francisco and Portland, are leading the charge, making most municipalities look downright wasteful.
True to its nickname, the Golden City has already achieved 80-percent waste diversion, while Portlandia barely trails behind at 70 percent. But when it comes to urban refuse terminology, zero waste implies only 85-percent waste diversion, not entirely trash-free.
In comparison, that percentile is lightyears ahead of most cities that size, as well as what most cities are even striving for in the coming decades. Dallas, Texas sluggishly plans to hit 60 percent over the next 12 years.
Even in cities with a reputation for being progressive, such as Boulder, CO, waste diversion isn’t where one might expect it to be. While the city is actively working to implement a bullish zero waste program, Boulder’s current system only diverts 34 percent of its rubbish. Although, with its latest plan, involving upgrades for its recycling center, financial incentives for businesses, regulations and advisory programs, Boulder hopes to reach 80 percent diversion by 2025.
The city says 90 percent of the trash that ends up in its landfill is either recyclable or compostable, meaning the zero waste goal is mostly a matter of policy and logistics. In the past Boulder implemented policies with reduced waste intention, including a 10 cent tax on all plastic bags, but some cities took that a step further, banning them entirely.
Zero Waste Girl
Another luminary for those seeking an example in the zero waste movement is Lauren Singer, a.k.a. the zero waste girl, who has become Johnson’s disciple, spreading the good word about the zero waste lifestyle. Just like Johnson, Singer can fit her past few years’ waste inside a mason jar and has become somewhat of an internet celebrity for her refuse-free savoir faire.
While studying at university, Singer found herself internally passing judgment on a classmate for her callous use of plastic bags and disposable goods. As an environmental science major, she imagined herself on a moral high ground, appalled by what she saw.
Then she went home and realized her fridge was packed with plastic wraps, Tupperware, and disposable products. She immediately realized the hypocrisy and dismounted her high horse to join the radical green revolution.
Singer’s youth appeals to the millennial generation that asks, “How can I do this when I live in a city, imbibe, and lead a busy lifestyle?” Her simplistic solutions proved anybody, no matter where you live or what you do, can significantly, if not entirely, reduce waste.
With the craft brewing (and distilling) movement becoming almost omnipresent, you can buy a glass growler and fill it up at the brewery down the street, and this is precisely what Singer does. This is almost always cheaper than buying beer at the store, as is everything that doesn’t have to be packaged. Johnson noted 15 percent of the cost every time you buy something goes toward packaging, so if you eliminate that element, you’ll save at least that much every time.
One brewery is also working on recreating the plastic six-pack rings that are so damaging to the eco-system by producing edible rings. Even when you cut up the rings and feel like you’re doing your part to save the turtles from suffocating, they eat them anyway. For so long, this has been such a destructive issue, that was solved with a relatively simple, zero waste solution that just required conscious effort.
You’ll find numerous organizations these days championing this mindful sentiment by spreading awareness and petitioning governments to implement these policies. This is a systemic problem, as we were brought up in a society of waste. Though most of us are unaware that we even do it; it’s ingrained in our culture. Once we start making and demanding change we can reverse some of the damage we’ve done and create a better future.