Gold and silver are among the best-known and most widely used precious metals, easily traded around the world and shaped into countless useful and decorative objects. Discovered thousands of years ago, these metals have become associated with prestige, wealth, and economic security in uncertain times.
Around the world, most gold and silver come from mining new ore, but these metals can also be recycled—and often are—because of their relative rarity and usefulness. When a product containing gold is at the end of its life, about 86% of the time, the gold is recycled, according to an analysis from Utrecht University. For silver, this recycling recovery rate is 50%.
Some companies, especially those selling things like jewelry and other decorative items directly to the public, are starting to commit to using more recycled precious metals. However, some items that contain gold, such as glass bottles, don't have enough gold to be worth the time, effort, and energy needed to extract it. Old jewelry, medical devices, computer motherboards, and other items considered "e-waste" are much more common sources of recycled metals.
Gold and especially silver mining declined at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic due to mines being shut down. Travel and trade restrictions from the top gold mining countries of Mexico, Peru, Canada, and South Africa also hurt the industry. However, the industry more or less rebounded once pandemic restrictions eased.
Precious metals online dealer SD Bullion analyzed historical data from the World Gold Council and The Silver Institute to illustrate trends in recycled and mined gold and silver.
About 24% of the world's gold supply came from recycling in 2022
In 2022, more than 1,100 tons of gold were recycled globally, according to the World Gold Council. But that's less than a decade earlier, even as mining of gold has been rising.
Watson says people are recycling gold less now primarily due to liquidation cycles. "Higher prices will see profit taking and increased returns," he said.
What's more, many people like to hold onto gold products, particularly in times of economic instability. Some investors see it as an asset to be passed on to the next generation.
Less than 18% of the world's silver supply came from recycled sources
The vast majority of silver produced globally (80%) comes from mining. The largest areas of growth in demand in the past year come from silverware and electronic or electrical components.
In the U.S., Alaska is the top source for mining silver, followed by Nevada and Idaho. The U.S. is ranked ninth in silver production in the world. Mexico, however, is the silver capital of the world. Of the silver that the U.S. imported in 2021, 47% came from Mexico and 23% came from Canada.
Story editing by Jeff Inglis. Copy editing by Tim Bruns. Written by Natalie McNeal.