In an effort to share the story of Precious Metal Clays (PMC) it is important to note that I am proud of the products I use for my jewelry work. PMC and Art Clay Silver both have created their products with the awareness of keeping it green. See that green leaf in the corner of the package? That's a good thing!
Some silver and gold comes from jewelry that is sold for scrap and melted down. This is the cheapest and safest way to reuse metal because the material is relatively pure to start with. A much larger source of precious metals is from recycled objects and industrial waste. Cell phones, computers, and monitors all contain small amounts of precious metals. These are chopped into tiny pieces, melted in a furnace, and refined. Inevitably the process creates plastic fumes and a lot of other nasty stuff. Recycling by itself is not good unless it is done appropriately. The issue is not whether a material is recycled but how it is recycled.
Mitsubishi Materials is one of the largest precious metal companies in Asia, supplying silver and gold to craftspeople, jewelry manufacturers and the computer industry. Because it is so large, Mitsubishi Materials has sourcing options outside the reach of smaller companies and pursues both mining and recycling. The proportion of silver coming from mining and reclamation varies from week to week but is always significantly more than the amount coming from mining. To be clear, the supply stream is too complicated to point to a given package of PMC and say that X% is recycled. But it is possible to say that consistently the PMC you are using contains more than 40% recycled metal. In some instances, much more.
This sounds good, but how can we be sure Mitsubishi or any other company is telling the truth? For this we turn to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), a network of national standards founded in 1947 that now includes 163 countries. In 1996 the ISO created the designation 14001 to monitor environmental management standards. According to the ISO website, “ISO 14001 has become the international benchmark for environmental management systems, implemented in 138 countries and now thoroughly integrated with the global economy.”
Mitsubishi’s largest recycling plant (they have several) earned its ISO 14001 status in 2001. It is now a zero-emission recycling plant. With a furnace of its own design, the plant can process various types of waste including sludge, circuit boards, and shredder dust from cars and appliances. At one of its other plants not only is metal recaptured from cars and household appliances, but the heat that is produced from rubber, urethane and resin is used to produce electricity, making this a direct material thermal recycling system.
PMC artists can be proud that the metal clay they use is responsibly sourced.