Recycled Jewelry Can Be A Toxic Health Risk

While I am a strong advocate for recycling (and upcycling), not everything can be “recycled beautifully.” Some things are unsafe, toxic and potentially seriously harmful to health. Doubly so when you’re talking about materials that will be worn on the human body and touching skin. One such example is reclaimed wire from old electronics such as tv’s or computers.

 Electronic products are jam-packed with heavy metals, semi-metals and various chemical compounds that can leak into soil and become hazardous. Things like lead, mercury, copper, barium, nickel and even arsenic are all present within a variety of electronic products.

What you might not realize is that electronic waste (also known as “e-waste”) is a serious problem in our tech-hungry society. And that much of that old tech contains a terrifying mix of toxic and potentially deadly combination of heavy metals and chemicals that are not only making humans sick, but poisoning our environment as well.

  • Brominated flame retardants – used in circuit boards and plastic casings. They are known to cause neurological issues such as learning disabilities and memory function. Additionally, interfere with thyroid and estrogen hormone systems. Exposure in the womb has been linked to behavioural problems. source
  • Lead – cathode ray tubes (CRT) found in monitors and tv’s contain thousands and thousands of tons of lead. Even low levels of lead in the blood of children can result in:
    Behavior and learning problems, Lower IQ and Hyperactivity, Slowed growth, Hearing Problems, Anemia and in rare cases, ingestion of lead can cause seizures, coma and even death.

    In adults, effects include: Cardiovascular effects, increased blood pressure and incidence of hypertension, Decreased kidney function and Reproductive problems (in both men and women) source

  • Mercury – used in flat panel displays and for lighting of monitors and tvs, this heavy metal produce toxicity or death with less than a gram. Toxic effects include damage to the brain, kidneys and lungs. Mercury poisoning can result in several diseases, including acrodynia (pink disease), Hunter-Russell syndrome, and Minamata disease. Symptoms typically include sensory impairment (vision, hearing, speech), disturbed sensation and a lack of coordination. source
  • Hexavalent chromium – used in production of metal casings to harden and resist corrosion as well as in paints and plastics is known to cause cancer. In addition, it targets the respiratory system, kidneys, liver, skin and eyes. source
  • Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) – used to manufacture plastics, plastic coatings on electronic wires, cable coatings, packing materials and more has more harmful side effects than I can easily mention ranging from liver damage, to male reproductive damage, to liver cancer, to oral cancer, to miscarriage, to testicular damage, to kidney damage, to inhibition of blood clotting in humans and cardiac arrhythmias in animals among many others. Suffice to say, you don’t want prolonged exposure to it. source
  • Cadmium – is a toxic heavy metal used in old CRT monitors and rechargeable batteries. Cadmium and its compounds are highly toxic and exposure to this metal is known to cause cancer and targets the body’s cardiovascular, renal, gastrointestinal, neurological, reproductive, and respiratory systems. source

Unfortunately, the list goes on and on. See Hazardous Substances in e-Waste for even more toxic and dangerous materials I haven’t even mentioned!

All this begs the question….why would you use “recycled copper or aluminum wire that [is] pull[ed] out of T.V.’s that people throw in the trash” for human worn jewelry??

epa000471501 A worker rummages through electronic waste for the purpose of salvaging metals and other materials for resale in Guiyu, south China's Guangdong province, Friday 01 July 2005.  Electronic waste, illegally imported here from developed countries, is causing severe environmental damage and exposing workers to highly toxic chemicals and heavy metals.  EPA/MICHAEL REYNOLDS

Do you really want to wear jewelry made from THIS? Do you want to exposure yourself, your family, your children to the potential dangers known in e-waste by wearing jewelry made from “recycled beautifully” wire? image source

Remember, skin can and DOES absorb chemicals!

Skin absorption is a route by which substances can enter the body through the skin. Along with inhalation, ingestion and injection, dermal absorption is a route of exposure for toxic substances and route of administration for medication. source

I implore you to PLEASE research your jewelry purchases. Be sure that the materials used in your jewelry is SAFE and MEANT for wear by humans. Don’t fall for slick marketing campaigns designed to trick you into thinking you’re buying something ecologically friendly.

Managing the ever-growing source of e-waste in the world is a serious problem to be sure, but using potentially toxic – and at worse, possibly lethal – materials for jewelry is flat-out dangerous.

Miss M. Turner is the owner and founder of PhoenixFire Designs and has been creating handcrafted jewelry, all made 100% from scratch in her Tampa, Florida studio since 2001. Her successful etsy shop celebrates it’s 10th year in 2016, with thousands of happy customers all around the world. M. Turner also vends at local markets, craft shows, indie festivals and other art shows throughout the greater Tampa Bay Area and into Sarasota.

You can find her blog at, follow PhoenixFire Designs on Instagram, follow PhoenixFire Designs on Pinterest and Shop PhoenixFire Designs on Etsy or Handmade at Amazon.