Crystals (or should I call them minerals? or just plain rocks?) have gotten so trendy over the past decade. I’m seeing them at specialty shops, yoga studios, farmers markets, even Nordstrom! While I’m not necessarily convinced that having a fluorite obelisk on my desk will help me focus better, I do think it’s really nice to look at! However, I worry about the harm that the mining process causes to workers and the environment. And, ironically, it’s my crunchy hippie friends who are into this stuff! Is there any kind of monitoring or certification system for this process?
Thank you, Dear Dot, for helping me navigate this very rocky territory!
Dear Concerned Crystal Collector,
Crystals are all the rage here in Los Angeles. Will adorning your abode with crystals bring healing into your home and life, or are these precious gems tainted with a past that’s not so “love and light”?
While I haven’t yet bought into the crystal craze, I do admire the stones when I walk into boutiques. Can something so lovely, especially an item that people use with the intent to cleanse auras, really be the product of harmful environmental practices?
Well, there’s good and bad news, Triple C. The good news is that we have a crystal clear answer for you on this one. The bad news is that the answer might halt the growth of your crystal collection. The gemstone industry is notorious for extractive techniques that damage the earth and for exploitative labor practices.
“As with most minerals, it is difficult to know the exact human and environmental cost of the individual crystal in your hand — but we know it is not insignificant,” says Payal Sampat, Mining Program Director at Earthworks, an organization that advocates for protections for communities and the environment where extractive industries operate.
There’s currently no legitimate international ethical certification system for crystals, and the supply chain is often murky. Many crystal shops buy their goods from trade shows, so chances are the sellers at your favorite boutique may not even know the provenance of the crystals they offer.
Even if you can track down the origins of your crystal, there really isn’t a way to mine gems and minerals without damaging the earth.
Sampat says that any type of mining, whether for crystals or the copper in your phone or the gold in your necklace, has a negative impact on the natural environment.
Mining of any sort is also all too often accompanied by labor violations, including child labor, underpayment, and dangerous working conditions.
The environmental impact of mining operations can be catastrophic. Mining can cause pollution, such as water contamination, and can damage the earth by leading to soil erosion and sinkhole formation. The mining process, especially for large-scale industrial mines, is also quite carbon intensive, due to the fuel used by mining and transport machinery.
Across the U.S. there are some “dig your own crystal” mines, which is one way to ensure supply chain transparency. While you can be sure that the crystals you find here are not the product of unfair labor practices, and smaller scale mines cause less damage to the earth, no kind of mining is 100% environmentally friendly.
Regardless of labor and environmental practices, crystals are a nonrenewable resource and therefore, by definition, unsustainable.
“They would be far more healing to the earth if they were left in the ground,” Sampat says.
So there you have it, Triple C. Enjoy the crystals you already have, and avoid purchasing more.