Every so often, I come across people who are critical of mineral collecting. “How can you say you’re trying to live sustainably,” I’ve been asked, “When you collect things that have been taken from the earth?” It’s a fair question, but there are plenty of reasons why I don’t feel that the two need to be at odds.
For the most part, we don’t actually mine for crystals.
In reality, they’re the detritus of metal, coal, and jewel mining. This means that the vast majority of crystals entering the market are doing so as a byproduct of producing other goods– why throw them away?
That said, there are a very few mines devoted to producing specimens like quartz crystals– generally small, individually- or family-owned operations with domestic labor and a minor impact on their surrounding environment. Sometimes, you can take tours of the facilities and the natural formations the specimens originally occupied. Some suppliers also offer chains of custody that show you exactly where your stones are from and every step they took in getting to you. Some places let you dig for your own stones.
Human rights abuses and environmental damage caused by mining operations are major concerns, or should be. However, they’re concerns that belong squarely to anyone who’s ever ridden in a car, worn jewelry, used a computer, or talked on a cell phone– not just mineral collectors.
Minerals are (extremely) durable goods.
They don’t wear out, don’t require upgrading, and don’t need replacing for the life of their collector. (In fact, a lot of collectors acquire their pieces through estate sales.) This means that, unlike clothing, cars, or computers, there isn’t a continuous need to acquire more and more of them.
I have a mineral collection. When I die, it will either be passed on to someone else or return to the dirt to be turned into slightly different dirt.
A lot of specimens can be picked up on the surface.
Though they don’t look as pretty as polished or faceted crystals, many mineral specimens can be found at or near the surface of the ground– no digging needed. It takes a little lapidary work to get them looking pretty, but they’re the same stones. Pretty much every crystal or mineral collector I know has some specimens they just happened to spot while out walking, myself included.
Some people don’t want to collect or use crystals because of their personal beliefs, and that’s okay! After considering both sides, I don’t feel that collecting gems and minerals is any more at odds with a sustainable, ethical lifestyle than any other hobby. Collect stones if you want to, don’t if you don’t, recycle your electronics, and don’t buy into the completely corrupt and ridiculous diamond market.
And remember, being distracted by sniping at each other over minor personal differences is what allows environmental and human rights abuses to continue.