On average, only 0.00001% of the ore being extracted is refined into gold. The remaining 99.9999% is waste, much of which is highly toxic. Low-quality gold ore is often mixed with sodium cyanide to dissolve gold. Many gold mines dump their toxic waste directly into natural bodies of water.
Mining companies around the world are estimated to be responsible for eliminating at least 180 million tons of toxic waste from rivers, lakes and oceans every year, destroying corals, marine life and freshwater ecosystems in the process. Comparison of the different gold routes of ecoinvent with the new data from this study on the recycling of gold waste. Mercury, a liquid metal, is used in artisanal and small-scale gold mining to extract gold from rocks and sediments. A notable finding from the literature review was that 23% of gold comes from the recycling of high-value gold scrap.
The gold routes that satisfy the global supply of gold are mining (74%), the recycling of high-value gold (23%) and electronic waste (3%). Modern industrial gold mining practices, such as well extraction and cyanide heap leaching, generate approximately 20 tons of toxic waste for each gold wedding ring. Since this study is limited to Germany and electricity has a great influence on the overall results of 1 kg of gold obtained through the recycling of precious metals, spatial differences in the electricity markets of different countries and, therefore, spatial differences in the recycling of gold waste play an important role. Often, mines close when gold prices make mining unprofitable and reopen later when the price of gold rises.
Firstly, in small quantities, gold meets various industrial needs, and secondly, in ingots, coins and sometimes even jewelry, gold is used as a safe investment. The results show that recycling high-value gold scrap has a significantly lower environmental impact than electronic recycling of gold scrap and mining. Renner H, Schlamp G, Hollmann D, Lüschow HM, Tews P, Rothaut J, Dermann K, Knödler A, Hecht C, Schlott M, Drieselmann R, Peter C, Schiele R (201) Gold, gold alloys and gold compounds. With all the gold in banks and in private possession, strictly speaking, gold should not be a critical or scarce material, at least not for industrial purposes.
As a result, the environmental impact of gold is present in studies on LCA products, to the point that the ecological image of gold has also attracted public media attention. Even more surprising seems to be the fact that in Germany almost all processed gold comes from the recycling of scrap gold. To finally examine and close the LCA data gap on this missing share of 23% of the total supply of gold from recycling, an extensive study was conducted on the processes commonly used to recycle gold waste and how these processes work. Until now, it has been difficult to obtain data on gold recycling processes, since the gold market as a whole tends to keep information intended for the public discrete.