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Recycled silver from X-rays: How is it obtained?

Did you know that the silver we use in our jewelry comes from X-rays? Yes, those same X-rays that have been taken of us to check our bones and ensure our bodies are in good condition can undergo a chemical process from which the metal is recovered. We love this because not only does it provide us with our raw material, but it also allows us to reduce the environmental and social impact of our jewelry from its production.



Trabajo en joyeria con plata reciclada de radiografias


Before delving into the benefits of using recycled silver from X-rays, it's important that we understand its components and the consequences as a medical waste. X-rays work with silver salts that are fixed onto a PET plastic sheet and react when exposed to radiation to reveal an image of our body. In areas where radiation penetrates our body, the salts react and produce an image through a developing process, similar to analog photography. In the areas of the X-ray where radiation doesn't pass through our body, the salts do not react and create contrast. These are the dark areas we see in X-rays and from which we can extract the most material.


This is why not disposing of X-rays correctly can have consequences on our ecosystems, as the dark parts of these films contain heavy metals that, under landfill conditions or exposure to the elements, can separate from the plastic sheet and end up in our soil and water sources. This contamination by heavy metals directly affects our lives, potentially reaching vegetation, crops, or animals that we consume.


On the other hand, recovering this material from waste allows us to avoid dependence on its extraction from the earth through mining processes. Although mining is one of the largest and most important industries in the world, it's also one of the major causes of disruptions in the social and natural ecosystems where it operates. Thirty percent of the silver used in jewelry and other industries like electronics and medicine comes exclusively from mines dedicated to silver extraction, while the rest is obtained from mines dedicated to the extraction of other metals such as copper, zinc, and magnesium.


This industry constantly seeks to extract "new" materials from the earth, overexploiting its resources and leading us to a point of no return in terms of the damage caused. This is why obtaining this semi-precious metal from an existing product considered waste allows us to avoid continuing to extract resources from the earth and gives new purpose to something that has already fulfilled its lifecycle.


And how is recycled silver from X-rays recovered?


The process to recover silver from this waste is carried out through various chemical washes that separate the metal from the plastic. Although it requires different acid solutions, these can be reused many times before needing replacement, making the environmental impact of this process much lower than that of mining. Approximately 12 grams of silver are obtained per kilogram of X-rays, depending on how much silver salts they contain. After this process, the resulting silver is settled and refined to be used again in its pure state. Silver in this state is very soft, so it needs to be mixed with other metals like copper to increase its hardness and make it suitable for use in jewelry. This is where terms like "LEY 950," "925," or "900" come in, where the value of these initials corresponds to the percentage of pure silver in the piece. For example, our jewelry is made of "LEY 950" silver, which means the alloy contains 95% silver, with the remaining 5% being other metals.


If you'd like to learn more about the process of recycled silver from X-rays, you can watch this short video that shows the metal extraction process.





This process demonstrates that it's possible to obtain 100% usable materials from the waste we generate and that we can find alternatives to traditional ways of doing things. For us at Salvárea, it's essential to encourage our consumers to explore the more responsible alternatives that exist for the products we consume and to recognize that what they consider waste may not necessarily be so. Additionally, gaining a closer understanding of where the silver we use in our jewelry comes from helps us work towards our goal of seeking better sustainability alternatives for our planet at every step of our business, from raw materials to production, packaging, use, and the life cycle of our treasures.


We hope that this brief entry has provided you with a new perspective on the use of materials to manufacture the objects we use in our daily lives, and specifically our jewelry. Finally, we'd like to invite you to send us any X-rays you may have stored at home and know that you won't need in the future so that we can dispose of them properly and potentially transform them into a piece of jewelry that someone can cherish.




Do you have any questions or would you like to learn more about this process? Please share your thoughts in the comments or reach out to us through our social media or email at salvareajoyeria@gmail.com.

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