What Does "Recycled" Metal Really Mean?

I advertise in my shop that my castings are made from recycled metals.  Recently I got a question about what this really means, which made me realize that there is quite a need for me to clarify.

First off, here's what it doesn't mean: it doesn't mean that I re-purpose old clasps or chains or any other jewelry parts.  All the items I use, unless they are antique (that is rare) are newly purchased and not previously used.

It also doesn't mean that I collect scrap metal and cast at my house.  I use a casting service (disclosed on my Etsy site) that manufactures the castings from me.  I live in a condo, and I doubt I would meet any fire code safety standards if I tried to melt gold here.  Not to mention the cost of good refining equipment (in the thousands of dollars).

My casting service, however, is supplied by a refinery that uses only recycled metals.  My findings (ear wires, backs and posts, bails, chains, and clasps) are purchased from wholesale suppliers in New York City.  So this is the sense in which my metals are recycled.  Maybe I should say instead that they are "ethically sourced" or "green."  

And what exactly IS recycled metal?  It is scrap metal that has been reacquired by refineries via jewelers, pawn shops, leftover metal from casters, items scrapped by jewelry chains  or consumers.  Computers and cell phones also contain precious metals, and when those are collected, the metals they contain can be scrapped.  Another segment of scrap metal comes from dental gold.  

Scraped Metal

Approximately 30% of the world supply of precious metals comes from recycled metals.  In the jewelry industry, this figure is higher.  Most of the gold collected by refineries is scrap from the industry itself, not from finished goods.  Some estimates say that up to 90% of gold in the jewelry industry comes from recycled materials.

Roughly 60% % of all high value gold (both recycled and mined) is used for jewelry.  

Recycled gold is in high demand in the jewelry industry, mainly because mining gold is expensive.  If the price of gold is low, it can actually cost more money to mine new gold than to purchase old gold.

In the jewelry industry, scrap prices is 1.5% below spot market, so that makes it well worth while to scrap leftover metals (which are usually acquired at 5% above market unless they are manufactured into, say, a clasp or another finding). If the ounce of gold is $1000, that means a $985 payout per ounce. The refinery then purifies the gold by melting it at a high degree, burning out the impurities (this process requires such high heat that it cannot be efficiently done at home).

The refinery then produces pure or different karat gold in bullion cubes, casting grain or sheets. This is in turn bought by casting services and manufacturers to cast jewelry and make finished pieces.

 This Refinery take scrap from jewelers refining into fresh mill products in a Crucible. Their refinery also processes virgin metal, which is intermingled with the secondary metal.
Photo Credit: http://www.jmny.com/ 

And that's the never ending story.  Once jewelry is made, bought, and worn, it is often resold back to refineries by individuals or through estate sales.  Then the cycle begins again.