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Image: Hummingbird cuff
Hard rock gold mining generates more toxic waste than any other U.S. industry, but Alkemie's jewelry is made from reclaimed materials.
TODAY contributor
updated 6/2/2008 1:38:04 PM ET 2008-06-02T17:38:04

From blood diamonds to dirty gold, it’s tougher than ever to adorn yourself with a piece of guilt-free jewelry. A diamond ring may give you immeasurable joy each time you slip it on, but the sparkle often comes with a price that outweighs its actual cost.

A girl’s best friend is often mined in places like Angola and Sierra Leone, where the gems are used to fund rebel groups that refuse to work toward peace and security. And in Third World countries, diamonds — and other precious stones — are usually mined in riverbeds, which can wreak environmental havoc by upsetting the ecology of the body of water and the surrounding areas.

Thinking that you’ll skip the diamonds and go gold? Buying plain gold jewelry may seem like a good idea, but unless you know where the gold originated and how it was mined, the choice is not an environmental win. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, hard rock gold mining (where gold is extracted from tons of rock) generates more toxic waste than any other industry in the United States.

As the ugly truth behind conventional jewelry continues to emerge, a growing group of eco-minded designers is making it possible for you to accessorize with a clear conscience. Here are some of my favorite picks:

Every piece of Alkemie Jewelry is made from reclaimed materials. Transforming something that already exists into something new is one of the most environmentally wise methods of designing. Husband-and-wife team Dara Gerson and Ashley Lowengrub have translated this knowledge into a striking line of cuffs (think octopi, hummingbirds, bats and owls), bangles, necklaces and rings (see photo of hummingbird cuff above). alkemiejewelry.com

Engaged? Thinking of popping the question? Brilliant Earth helps you do it in eco-style with Canadian diamonds. Diamonds mined in Canada follow the country’s strict environmental laws and are conflict-free. Customize your own ring or choose one of Brilliant Earth’s signature styles — each packaged in a box made of rimu, a New Zealand wood sourced from a sustainable forest. brilliantearth.com

Image: Manic Trout ring
Manic Trout's jewelry is made with reused, recycled or vintage materials.

Manic Trout’s eco-friendly jewelry line uses reused, recycled or vintage materials to form unique rings, necklaces and earrings. Available in 33 different colors and styles, the vintage button rings are particularly adorable. manictrout.com

You know those clunky gold earrings your grandmother gave you? Instead of sitting in a box in your underwear drawer, they could be put to good use by being recycled into a new piece of jewelry. This is the thinking behind Green Karat, a company that creates original earrings, rings and necklaces out of 100 percent postconsumer recycled gold. Want to start your marriage off right? Slip one of Green Karat’s wedding rings onto your beloved’s finger. greenkarat.com

Marisa Belger is a writer and editor with more than 10 years of experience covering health and wellness. She was a founding editor of Lime.com, a multiplatform media company specializing in health, wellness and sustainable living. Marisa also collaborated with Josh Dorfman on “The Lazy Environmentalist” (Stewart, Tabori, and Chang), a comprehensive guide to easy, stylish green living.

Please note: Neither Marisa Belger nor TODAYshow.com has been compensated by the manufacturers or their representatives for her comments or selection of products reviewed in this column.

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