Environmental Impact of Natural Diamonds

Natural diamonds are formed deep inside the Earth under high temperatures and tremendous pressures. Diamond-bearing rock (kimberlite or lamproite) is carried to the Earth's surface through volcanic activity that created so called 'kimberlite pipes'. Each year, over 150 million carats of diamonds are extracted from the Earth through mining. To do so, enormous amounts of soil need to be removed and processed.

Image of an open pit diamond mine
Over 670 million carats have been extracted from the Argyle Diamond Mine,
with nearly 3 billion tons of ore removed.
Open pit, or strip mine, and underground mines are the two most common types of diamond mines. Each mine is located on or around a kimberlite pipe. All of the waste rock, sand and soil must first be removed to reach the diamond-bearing kimberlite. In some cases, this includes removing entire lakes and ecosystems to reach the kimberlite. On average, one ton of kimberlite contains one carat of diamonds. To extract one ton of kimberlite, several thousand tons of empty rock have to be removed1. This type of mining relies on an extensive use of explosives and heavy machinery: huge excavators, bulldozers and hauling trucks. Furthermore, very water-intensive processes are used to extract diamonds from the kimberlite. The waste rock is disposed nearby, disrupting much more land area than the size of the pit itself.

Kimberlite pipes are subject to natural erosion. Some diamond deposits are being washed out and end up in river beds or on the ocean's floor near mouths of a river, making up so called alluvial deposits. The most common alluvial mining occurs along southwest Africa. It involves extensive digging and sifting through mud, sand and gravel. Again, as with the case in open pit mining, huge amounts of gravel are being moved from riverbeds and the ocean's floor to a processing facility.

Both types of diamond mining involve large scale earth-moving operations and subsequent ore processing. Environmental impact of that is substantial: high level of energy consumption, mainly (and in some instances completely, like the Diavik mine in Canada) associated with burning of fossil fuels for power generation and moving equipment; liquid and solid wastes; air pollution; enormous use of water; impact on natural habitats and ecosystems, especially fragile ones like tundra and permafrost areas in Northern Canada and Russia or tropical forests in equatorial Africa.

Environmental Impact of Lab-grown Diamonds

Contrary to mining, no water or air pollution results from the production of laboratory created diamonds. There are no devastated ecosystems associated with it, nor do we use substantial amounts of water or hazardous chemicals or any other environmentally dangerous substances or processes. In fact, the only resource we consume is a modest amount of electricity, which primarily comes from renewable sources.