Are Crystals Sustainable? - The Years Project

Are Crystals Sustainable?

By Gabriella Sotelo

Before their healing value gained mainstream popularity and celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow preached their unique ability to ‘remove negative energy’ from a space, crystals were used in indigenous practices. They were once mined ethically and on a small scale, and communities of Native Americans followed their own mining laws. And though the ratio of waste to product when mining was sometimes large, it could supply a small number of people for a longer time. 

In 1851, the Indian Appropriations Act was passed to prevent Native Americans from leaving their reservation. In 1874, gold was discovered in Lakota owned Black Hills, and though they were granted sacred territory, thousands of miners invaded their territory. Indigenous groups have a history of being stripped of their culture, and mainstream crystal usage is yet another example. 

Though crystals are still used in indigenous culture, today they are also sold by companies like Goop and Urban Outfitters that have little regard for the environmental impacts of their products or their cultural origins. People have petitioned for Goop to sell more ethically mined crystals. The petition received almost 17,000 digital signatures after an article revealed the environmental impact, but Goop hasn’t responded. This does not come as a surprise as many companies and stores that sell crystals don’t reveal where their crystals are sourced. This point was revealed in an article from The New Republic that questioned where and how crystals are mined. Within the article, the reader learns that the two largest copper mines in New Mexico generated about 2 billion gallons of contaminated seepage each year. This is just one of the many hazardous effects crystal mining has on our environment. Another is the carbon emissions associated with shipping this heavy product around the world.

A study done by Laurence Scott at the University of Basel in Switzerland showed the impact of mining gemstones include water contamination, landscape destruction, soil erosion and soil loss, habitat loss, and many other detrimental impacts to the environment. The environmental practices used to mine crystals are not the only problem. Included in the research paper by Scott, he links gemstone mining with growing cases of malaria in gemstone producing regions in Sri Lanka as stagnant water in the mining pits attract mosquitoes.

Moreover, in an article published by The Guardian, they reported how mining crystals was affecting the Madagascar rainforest. Whenever there is a boom in demand for crystals, people flock to new mining sites. These sites are sometimes located in environmentally protected areas and mining practices can threaten local species. Madagascar, a country with many species that exist nowhere else in the world, is especially known for this because they have extensive gemstone resources and it’s their fastest growing export.

Madagascar crystals come from large scale industrial mines where the working conditions can be hazardous. It is families in Madagascar that go to work in these mines and are endangering their lives by going through claustrophobic pits where breathing is difficult and gemstones are rare. 

The solution lies in people.

Policies need to be in place, Scott writes, however it is difficult to do so because of the current demand for crystals. On the environmental consequences of gemstone extraction and consumption he says it’s “the responsibility of all industry stakeholders.” 

For those who buy crystals, please be aware of where you are purchasing them and where they might be sourced, to be aware of the practices of the mining industry.

The environment and people are being harmed yet companies like Goop aren’t taking accountability and say where they got the rose quartz for their face massage roller. Instead of giving them your money or even watching Goop Lab on Netflix, you can buy lab-grown crystals or find sustainable crystals on websites like Etsy. Or like any consumer product, we can opt to lower our environmental footprints by choosing to buy less.

Header photo: Flickr user 8ShroomFairy8