Every day we seem to be discovering new behaviors and practices to mitigate our impact on the environment. Movements such as Fridays For Future, also known as School Strike for Climate founded by Greta Thuneburg, have opened millions of eyes to the serious threat of man-made Climate Change. Even the lighthearted task of finding an engagement ring has lately found itself surrounded with questions about sustainability. Lab-grown diamonds or natural diamonds? How are natural diamonds mined? Do lab-grown diamonds require more greenhouse gases to make? What becomes of mining sites after the diamonds are uncovered? As if finding the right ring wasn’t tricky enough, now you have the health of the planet to consider! Not to worry, below are all the answers you’ll need.
Where are natural diamonds from?
Natural diamonds are found in the igneous rock kimberlite. They are created over millions and billions of years through a combination of pressure and heat. Natural occurrences such as volcanic eruptions bring the kimberlite to the surface where they are mined.
There are two main types of mining used to uncover natural diamonds. The first type is called pipe diamond mining and it is performed on land. The second is called offshore marine diamond mining. Pipe diamond mining consists of two variations: open-pit diamond pipe mining and underground diamond pipe mining.
Open-pit diamond pipe mining is the most common form and involves rock blasters and other excavation technology to dig an immense hole into the ground. It’s a relatively basic concept, if there are more diamonds at the bottom of the hole, more explosions from the rock blaster will occur. If you search open-pit diamond pipe mining, thousands of photos pop up of what appear to be bomb testing sites. Open-pit diamond pipe mining is highly dangerous to the long-term health of miners working on the site as well. Diamond companies are frequently asked to repair the damage as best they can, but rarely do they follow through and sadly the land is sometimes too damaged to remedy. Once the diamond companies have taken all they can, the mines sometimes transition into landfills, causing further damage to the area’s groundwater and fragile ecosystems.
Underground diamond pipe mining is occasionally employed by diamond companies. This type of pipe mining is used when they feel the site is still profitable and the stones are at too great a depth for surface-level extraction. This type of mining is highly susceptible to flooding due to rock blasts so deep in the earth, and it is more expensive than open-pit mining.
The second type of mining is called offshore marine diamond mining and they use more polished and scientific methods to discover and extract the diamonds. In a 2018 article published on southafrica.angloamerican.com, a vessel manager, Lerato Tsaoane, described the process of discovering a possible marine mining site. Here is what she said, “The geologists determine where the currents should have landed and the theory goes that this is where the diamonds would have fallen. Once this is established, we then send an exploration vessel to grab some samples,” says Lerato. “The thing with diamond mining is that only 2% of what we suck up will actually be diamonds, so we need to be sure about the deposits we mine as it’s an expensive operation.” Let me repeat that, 2% out of 100% of all the sediment and microorganisms they suck up will be diamonds. Obviously, the technology has become more advanced since 2018, but it is still a low percentage of those ecosystems, they are sucking up that will be diamonds. The two main marine diamond mining techniques used are called horizontal and vertical marine diamond mining.
Horizontal marine diamond mining employs the help of a crawler ship using flexible hose and pipe-like structures to suck up ocean floor sediments. This is the most common offshore mining method.
Vertical marine diamond mining involves a large drill head blasting the rocks, which contain the diamonds, and using suction, brings the debris up to the ship. The crew will then sift through it and separate the diamonds from the sediment. The sediment, much like bycatch in this scenario, is dumped back over the side, but this does next to nothing to restore the ocean floor to its original state.
Diamond Heaven lists the impacts of offshore diamond mining on their website, in quotes here, “Offshore mining comes at a huge environmental cost, as the equipment used dredges thousands of tons of sediment out of the sea. It takes the Earth decades to recover from such damage. This method also disturbs sea creatures such as whales, dolphins, and sharks.”
Offshore diamond mining is expected to increase in popularity once our diamonds resources on land have been exhausted.
The important questions to consider:
Which diamond produces more carbon?
Natural diamonds require over 125 lbs of CO2 per carat. Lab-grown diamonds beat out the competition by requiring just 6 lbs of CO2, that’s just over 4% of the total CO2 natural diamonds produce.
Which diamonds require more water?
For one carat, natural diamonds require 126 gallons of water. Lab-grown diamonds require 18 gallons of water. But natural diamonds can cause consistent pollution to bodies of water above ground meaning rivers, lakes, etc. Natural diamonds also cause groundwater contamination as well which can lead to poor drinking water, loss of water supply, serious health problems and much more.
Which diamond requires more energy?
Natural diamonds require 538.5 million joules per carat. Lab-grown diamonds require a little more than half that with 250 million joules per carat. However, studies say most of the energy used to make lab-grown diamonds comes from renewable energy sources, unlike mined diamonds.
Which diamond damages more land?
Per carat of each natural diamond 100 sq feet of land is disturbed. Per carat of each lab-grown diamond, only 0.07 sq feet of land is disrupted.
Which diamond produces more mineral waste?
Natural diamonds create over 5,798 lbs of waste per carat. Lab-grown diamonds produce a mere 1 lb of mineral waste per carat.
Both natural diamonds and lab-grown diamonds impact the planet, but when you weigh them against each other, lab-grown diamonds are the clear winner if you want to live a sustainable life. Some individuals want a diamond because they consider it financial security if tough times are unknowingly ahead. If you want to have a natural diamond engagement ring, consider buying a vintage ring. The vintage diamond will most likely retain its value in the years ahead, plus you can enjoy the benefits of a clear conscience knowing your decision caused zero harm to the planet. You can also make your one-of-a-kind vintage ring into a treasured family heirloom.