are lab grown diamonds better for the environment

Are Lab-Grown Diamonds Better for the Environment? (What You Need To Know)

Last Updated on August 6, 2023 by Annie Baldwin

Lab-grown diamonds, also known as synthetic or cultivated diamonds, are chemically identical to mined diamonds.

They are created in a lab using advanced technology that replicates the conditions under which diamonds naturally form, but are lab-grown diamonds better for the environment?

This in-depth article will uncover the truth about lab-grown diamonds and their impact on the environment.

Are Lab-Grown Diamonds Better for the Environment?

Yes, based on current scientific evidence, lab-grown diamonds are better for the environment compared to traditionally mined diamonds in most aspects.

Are Lab-Grown Diamonds Better for the Environment?
Lab-grown diamonds are similar to earth-mined diamonds, except for the fact that they are grown in a controlled laboratory environment. Image Credit: The Diamond Room

Key Points

  • Lab diamonds have a lower carbon footprint – about 3 times less than equivalent mined diamonds.
  • Diamond mining generates massive amounts of waste, over 2000 times more per carat than lab diamonds.
  • Mining uses enormous amounts of water, up to 2500 times more than lab diamond production.
  • Mined diamonds require more energy overall, depending on whether renewable energy is used in lab production.

What is the Environmental Impact of Mined Diamonds?

Before tackling the environmental impact of mined diamonds, have you asked yourself this question: “Are lab-grown diamonds better for the environment?”

The environmental impact of mined diamonds starts at the source.

Diamond mining operations can generate massive amounts of waste.

A typical diamond mine moves over 250 tons of ore for just one carat of rough diamond.

The waste rock is discarded in huge piles, leaving behind massive craters.

This can displace communities and destroy local ecosystems.

Diamond mining also requires an immense amount of water and energy.

The world’s largest diamond mine, Jwaneng in Botswana, uses 170 million liters of water per day.

That’s enough daily water for a city of 350,000 people.

Do Lab Diamonds Have a Lower Carbon Footprint?

Research has found that producing a one-carat synthetic diamond generates about 5 tons of CO2 emissions.

In comparison, a mined diamond of equivalent size has a carbon footprint of over 16 tons.

So, in terms of carbon emissions, lab diamonds are about 3 times less impactful.

This difference arises from the elimination of mining, reduced energy needs, and higher yield of gem-quality diamonds.

However, critics point out that the actual carbon footprint depends on the energy sources used in production.

If renewable energy is not utilized, the emissions can be much higher.

How Does Diamond Mining Impact the Environment?

To answer the question, “Are lab-grown diamonds better for the environment?” Let us take a look at its effects on the environment.

Diamond mining can have many adverse effects on the environment:

  • Deforestation – Large areas of natural forests are cleared to access kimberlite pipes and alluvial deposits. This destroys animal habitats and releases CO2.
  • Pollution – The use of heavy machinery leads to air and noise pollution. Chemicals used can contaminate soil and water sources.
  • Displacement of communities – Local communities are often forced to relocate to make way for large mining operations. Their livelihoods are severely disrupted.
  • Ecosystem disturbance – The landscape is completely altered by open pit mines. Tailings contaminate waterways, affecting marine ecosystems.
  • Soil erosion – Vegetation removal and piles of waste rock lead to increased soil erosion. This causes landslides, silting of rivers, and loss of arable land.

So while lab diamonds eliminate the environmental damage associated with mining, traditionally mined diamonds have a much larger ecological footprint.

How Much Waste is Produced by Mined Diamonds?

The diamond mining industry generates staggering amounts of waste.

A 2021 report found that for every carat of diamond produced, the industry generates over 2,000 metric tons of mine waste.

Annually, over 9 billion tons of waste rock is discarded by diamond mines around the world.

This is several times the waste generated by mining for other precious metals.

Gold mining produces just 5-20 tons of waste per ounce of gold.

The waste from diamond mines contains harmful substances like arsenic and mercury.

When exposed to air and water, these toxins can pollute ecosystems.

Which Has a Higher Water Usage – Natural or Lab Diamonds?

A diamond underneath a diamond processing technology.
Lab-grown diamonds are created using a diamond seed. They are not fake and feature the exact qualities of mined diamonds. Image Credit: Beldiamond

Producing diamonds in a lab requires almost no water.

On the other hand, mining operations utilize enormous quantities of water.

Let’s look at some actual numbers.

The world’s largest lab diamond company, Diamond Foundry, uses less than 7 gallons of water per carat of diamond.

In comparison, mining a single carat of diamond can use over 2,500 gallons of water.

Some of the largest diamond mines in arid regions like Namibia and Botswana rely heavily on extracting groundwater.

This strains water resources in drought-prone areas.

Lab-grown diamonds have a dramatically lower water footprint compared to mined diamonds.

Are Lab Diamonds Better in Terms of Energy Use?

Manufacturing lab diamonds is an energy-intensive process.

But exact energy consumption depends on various factors.

Lab diamond companies using renewable energy have emissions in the range of 5 to 30 kg CO2 per carat.

Those relying on fossil fuels can have a carbon footprint over three times higher.

Mining operations also use heavy, fossil fuel-powered machinery.

Older mines employ dirty diesel generators while newer ones use grid electricity.

Overall, the average energy footprint falls in the 15 – 160 kg CO2 per carat range.

So while the upper ranges are comparable, renewable energy-powered labs can achieve much lower emissions than the cleanest mines.

Can Lab-Grown Diamonds Have Negative Impacts?

While greener than mining, lab diamond production has some downsides:

  • High electricity usage – Although improving, production still requires a lot of energy. Without renewable sources, this dependence on fossil fuels is a concern.
  • Equipment waste – Labs must replace machinery after several production cycles. Proper e-waste disposal is important.
  • Use of chemicals – Substances like nickel and methane are used to grow diamonds. Safe handling and disposal are essential.
  • Limited sustainability reporting – Unlike mines, lab diamond companies provide limited sustainability disclosures. More transparency is needed.

So while lab diamonds are better, some practices could be further improved to minimize any negative environmental impacts.

How Does Mining Impact Local Communities?

Beyond environmental damage, diamond mining can severely impact local communities:

  • Loss of livelihoods – Farmers and small-scale miners are displaced, losing their income sources.
  • Human rights abuses – Reports of forced evictions and labor rights violations are common around diamond mines.
  • Health issues – Open pit mines, waste rock, chemicals, and coal power plants cause respiratory issues and diseases.
  • Conflict and violence – Illegal mining and trade have fueled civil wars in countries like Sierra Leone and Angola.
  • Lack of economic benefits – Companies often fail to provide adequate economic opportunities to local communities.

Lab-grown diamonds offer a conflict-free alternative that does not fuel these community issues linked to diamond extraction.

What About Disposing of Lab Diamonds?

Lab diamonds are made purely from carbon. This means they can be disposed of like any other carbon material.

Possible disposal routes include:

  • Reselling – Unwanted lab diamonds can be resold since they retain their value.
  • Recycling – Diamonds can be recycled by crushing them into abrasive powders.
  • Incineration – Safely burning diamonds releases carbon dioxide, which can be captured.
  • Landfilling – Lab diamonds are non-toxic and inert so landfilling has a minimal impact.

However, critics argue that limited data is available on current disposal practices.

More transparency around end-of-life is certainly desirable.

Are lab-grown diamonds eco-friendly?

Lab-grown diamonds are considered more eco-friendly than mined diamonds for several reasons.

So, it begs the question, “Are lab-grown diamonds better for the environment?”

For one, lab diamond production has a lower carbon footprint because it does not require energy-intensive mining.

Producing a lab diamond generates an estimated 5 tons of CO2 emissions per carat, compared to over 16 tons per carat for a mined diamond.

Additionally, lab diamond manufacturing is less wasteful and does not produce the massive amounts of waste associated with mining operations.

Diamond mines discard over 2,000 tons of waste rock to extract just 1 carat of diamond.

Lab diamond production creates virtually no mining waste.

Other factors that make lab diamonds an eco-friendly option are the lack of environmental destruction from mining and negligible water usage.

Overall, the environmentally friendly pedigree of lab diamonds arises from the elimination of harmful mining practices.

What are the harms of diamonds?

The main harms of traditionally mined diamonds arise from the environmental damage caused by mining operations.

These include deforestation, destruction of ecosystems, and pollution from chemicals and waste rock at mining sites.

Open-pit mines leave behind massive craters and piles of waste rock that leach toxins into the environment.

Mining also uses immense amounts of water in areas where water scarcity is already an issue.

The extraction of diamonds has also fueled conflict and human rights abuses in some countries.

From an environmental standpoint, the harms largely relate to the immense ecological footprint of diamond mining.

This footprint arises from waste, water use, land degradation, and greenhouse gas emissions.

Are lab-grown diamonds more ethical?

Yes, lab-grown diamonds are considered a more ethical option compared to mined diamonds.

Diamond mining has historically been linked to human rights abuses, conflict, and exploitation of vulnerable communities.

Lab-grown diamonds offer an alternative free from these ethical concerns over conflict diamonds.

The controlled environment of diamond labs also provides better labor conditions and wages compared to artisanal mining.

In summary, the combination of conflict-free origins, reduced environmental impact, and better labor practices make lab diamonds the more ethical choice overall.

The Bottom Line – Which is Better?

Are lab-grown diamonds better for the environment?

Lab-grown diamonds are the more eco-friendly and ethical option:

  • They have a lower carbon footprint, using less energy and emitting fewer greenhouse gases.
  • Virtually no waste is produced compared to the massive amounts from mining.
  • They require almost no water to manufacture, while mining diamonds is highly water intensive.
  • No environmental destruction or community displacement takes place.
  • However, non-renewable energy use in labs should be addressed for further improvements.

While lab-grown diamonds aren’t perfect, they are undoubtedly a greener alternative to traditionally mined diamonds in terms of environmental impact.

The choice comes down to each individual’s preferences and priorities.

But science favors lab diamonds as the more sustainable option.

After reading this article about lab-grown diamonds, ask yourself this question, “Are lab-grown diamonds better for the environment?”

Frequently Asked Questions

What are some pros of lab diamonds?

Lab diamonds are chemically and visually identical to mined diamonds. Additional benefits are their conflict-free origins and reduced environmental impact. Lab diamonds are available in many diamond cuts such as princess, cushion, and emerald.

Do lab diamonds last as long?

Yes, lab diamonds are as hard, brilliant, and long-lasting as earth-mined diamonds. They have the same durability, with a rating of 10 on the Mohs scale of hardness. This makes them suitable for any type of jewelry.

Are they affordable or expensive?

High-quality lab diamonds are around 30% cheaper than mined diamonds. This makes them a budget-friendly alternative while retaining the sparkle and quality of a mined diamond.

Where can I buy lab-grown diamonds?

Many online retailers offer high-quality lab diamonds at competitive prices. Some of the top options are Clean Origin, Ada Diamonds, and Lightbox. Be sure to buy certified diamonds from a trusted and reputable seller.

GreenChiCafe is passionate about the environment and our natural world. Please check out our website for more content on making eco-friendly choices.

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