Mining Trees

Last year while wedding planning, I spent a lot of time thinking about what type of wedding ring I wanted. A wedding ring is the physical symbol of marriage, and one of the few tangible results of wedding planning that sticks around after the wedding itself is over, so it was important to me to choose a ring that I was comfortable with ethically as well as aesthetically.

Unless you’ve been hiding under a (sparkly) rock for years, I’m pretty sure you’ll already know about the ethical concerns surrounding diamond mining. A less-discussed but still very real set of issues also surround gold mining. Gold is relatively rare and can require a significant amount of processing to extract and purify — a Forest & Bird article from last years states that “several tonnes of toxic waste is created to produce enough gold for a single ring.” What’s more, the largest use of gold is for making jewellery. Knowing all this, I was adamant that I didn’t want a brand new gold wedding ring.*

I knew that second-hand was an option, but some beautiful wooden rings had also caught my eye. The wood used to make a single ring has a much smaller environmental footprint than the same amount of precious metal and stones, making a wooden ring a great option for the environmentally conscious bride-to-be. I was also delighted to discover some makers of wooden rings even offered the option of using swamp kauri from here in Aotearoa New Zealand.

At the time my main concern was that a wooden ring would never have the longevity of a metal ring — and I’d be counting on my wedding ring to last “til death do us part”! But I was seriously considering a wooden wedding ring. Then my grandmother offered to give me her own mother’s wedding ring, which was perfect in so many ways, and — feeling exceedingly grateful — I never looked back.

Fast-forward half a year or so, and I am now oh-so-glad I didn’t choose that swamp kauri ring. Several recent blog posts and news articles have described the mining and illegal exporting of ancient swamp kauri from our wetlands. Unlike wood harvested from sustainably grown forests, swamp kauri is a finite resource, and excavating swamp kauri from ecologically significant wetlands is a destructive activity akin to open-cast mining. Adding insult to injury, it appears much of the swamp kauri that gets shipped overseas may be being exported illegally.

So what I thought of as a sustainable and ethical choice — a wooden wedding ring — turned out to be a terribly destructive, unsustainable option. While this obviously doesn’t hold true for all types of wood, it’s ultimately a reminder to think carefully about what we buy: How are the materials sourced? How is it made? And do I truly need to buy it at all?

*I also flat out refused to have an engagement ring, both because of the ecological and ethical concerns associated with gold and diamond mining, and because the typical gender distribution of engagement rings is inherently unfair.