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By David Bachelor, PhD
Pastor, Pearsall 1st Methodist Church
When people think about recycling, they do not usually consider the substance in this week’s headlines among the items to be put out for collection. The substance being recycled (and making news because of its re-use) is gold. At over $1800 an ounce, this is one item that seems counter-intuitive to throw away. As this week’s stories make clear, gold does not get thrown away. It gets a new purpose.
The headline for Saturday’s edition of the New York Post was, “AOC Touts ‘Zero Emission’ Engagement Ring Made With ‘Recycled Gold’.” AOC is the nickname for Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Last Thursday AOC announced her engagement on Twitter. Photos of her engagement ring were quickly circulating on the internet. In order to dispel any thought that the large ornament on her hand violated her green and social warrior credentials, Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez tweeted, “It’s zero emission and recycled gold.” Quoted in the Post article was Peter Kahan, of Katz Jewelry in New York’s Diamond District. Kahan responded to AOC’s tweet, “All gold is recycled. No gold is ever wasted. ‘New’ gold makes up only a tiny share of the market.”
It may be true that “No gold is ever wasted,” but Nature.com released a research paper on May 19 called “Losses and Lifetimes of Metals in the Economy” that examined the loss of gold and other metals when used and recycled for industrial purposes. The authors concluded that gold has an average lifetime of 61 years when used in manufacturing. The paper surmised that the lifespan for gold could be extended if industry recognized the “need to improve design for better sorting and recycling.”
The same day Nature.com released its paper, Nagoya University published an article called “Recycling More Precious Metals from Nuclear and Electronic Waste Using the Picasso Pigment, Prussian Blue.” The article was picked up by Newswise.com. Japanese researchers discovered that the substance that produces the color “Prussian Blue” in dyes and paints has a molecular structure that traps gold. The team from the university created a process using Prussian Blue where “gold could be extracted from electronic waste, such as smart phones, in amounts 10-80 times more than can be obtained from natural ores.” The pigment also helps recycle gold from nuclear reactors.
The Bible shows that God had a gold recycling program during His people’s escape from Egypt. In the first phase, God made the Egyptian captors sympathetic to the plight of the Israelites (Ex 3:21). God had Moses tell the Israelites, “Every Israelite woman is to ask her Egyptian landlord and her Egyptian neighbors for gold and silver jewelry” (Ex 3:22). The Egyptians responded as God predicted, and this recycled gold was carried out of Egypt by the Israelites. The next phase of the recycling process was the construction of the Tabernacle. When Moses announced that a special tent would be built for the worship of God, “All who were willing, men and women alike, came and brought gold jewelry of all kinds: brooches, earrings, rings and ornaments. They all presented their gold as a wave offering to the LORD” (Ex 35:22). Artisans selected by God fashioned the gold into the objects needed to conduct worship.
I guess God’s people were the first environmentalists. And we continue our recycling ministry each week when we pass the collection plate (though no gold gets recirculated). The difference between these gifts and the gold in AOC’s wedding ring is that God’s people do not want to have zero “emissions.” The gifts are given so that ministry can flow out of the church. These “emissions” are the only way to save the planet.