Quartz watches are not good for the environment, but these watches do not seem to be worse than other kinds of watches in this regard.
The biggest environmental concern is the reliance on mining materials like quartz and metal, as well as the short battery lifespan.
Here’s everything you need to know about the environmental impact of quartz watches.
1. How Do Quartz Watches Affect the Environment?
The biggest environmental concern associated with quartz watches is the fact that quartz is sourced via mining.
Approximately 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions are due to mining.
Plus, quartz is not the only mined material in quartz watches.
Quartz is only a small component in these watches; a watch will also likely contain metal.
The watch face will be covered with a clear disk; although this is commonly referred to as the “watch crystal,” it is usually made of plastic or glass, while high-end watches may use clear sapphire.
Although glass is made from sand, creating glass is an energy-intensive process.
Manufacturing glass can release approximately 95 million tonnes of CO2 worldwide per year.
Mining for quartz and other materials, like crude oil to make plastic, can cause deforestation as land is cleared to make room for the mine site.
The noise pollution and vibrations can also disrupt the ecosystem; not only can it cause hearing damage in wildlife and stress, but it can also interfere with predator-prey relationships as prey cannot hear predators approaching and vice versa.
Mines can also emit dust, which settles on plants. This prevents them from being able to photosynthesize, meaning plants can die, leaving wildlife and insects without food.
There is also the risk of landslides and sinkholes from overburden dumps.
Mining for quartz can also leave behind waste, such as non-target rocks.
The quartz must be extracted from phyllite rock. Some of the waste rock can be sold to be used in construction.
For example, phyllite can be sold to be used as fertilizer or even animal feed, while quartz tailings in concrete can make it more durable.
Mine waste can have a negative environmental impact if it’s not handled appropriately.
For example, if phyllite powder is not managed properly, it can be transported in the wind and can potentially have adverse health effects when breathed by mine employees and animals.
Exposure to free silica can cause obstructive asthma, chronic bronchitis, pulmonary heart disease, and more.
Should quartz powder be disposed of incorrectly, it can pollute water supplies and negatively impact the ability of plants to pollinate should they become coated in it.
In order to create products like quartz watches, materials need to be sourced from across the globe.
You may have already noticed that many products you purchased in a local store were manufactured elsewhere.
So, freight plays a role in the environmental impact of quartz watches.
Although quartz is an abundant mineral and can be found in Europe, the US, and South Africa, the primary quartz producers are China, Russia, and Japan.
So, the quartz in your watch is unlikely to have been sourced domestically.
This also applies to other materials in quartz watches; for example, China is the biggest exporter of steel and iron.
Up to 8% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions are from freight transportation.
Quartz can also be created via hydrothermal growth.
This process typically entails putting crystalline quartz and silica in water under high temperatures and pressure, which forces the materials to dissolve and then form a crystal when the solution cools down.
Since this process often requires using lower-grade crystals and heating them, it does not eliminate the need for mining.
Plus, heating materials to extremely high temperatures, such as 300°C or higher, is energy-intensive.
Given that most energy use worldwide is still reliant on fossil fuels, this method of sourcing quartz and other gemstones does not seem to be more sustainable.
It will also take energy to manufacture the watch from the materials.
Although quartz is an abundant material, it is still not a renewable resource.
Metal and glass, which are also in quartz watches, are not renewable either.
Quartz watches can last a lifetime, so there is not a constant demand to produce a new watch.
However, the battery must be replaced approximately every two years.
Most quartz watches use silver oxide batteries, but it’s not unheard of to find a watch powered by lithium batteries or silver peroxide-zinc batteries.
It’s vital to ensure the batteries are disposed of responsibly.
Silver oxide batteries contain some mercury; although it is unlikely to leak, they should still be handled with care.
Should you throw a silver oxide battery in your general waste bin, the mercury may escape into the environment.
If a silver oxide battery leaks in a landfill, it can end up in groundwater and even enter drinking water, while incinerated batteries can release mercury into the air.
Sourcing lithium for batteries is harmful to the environment as it can cause water, air, and soil pollution.
Plus, lithium batteries are rarely recycled, so this accumulates waste.
2. Are Quartz Watches Sustainable?
Quartz watches are not particularly sustainable.
Although quartz is easy to source, the mining process is bad for the environment.
The quartz and other materials in these watches, like glass, plastic, and metal, are not renewable.
Even though the watches themselves have a long lifespan, the batteries are still an environmental concern.
3. How Do Quartz Watches Compare to Other Types?
Quartz watches still have a lot of the components of a regular watch: a battery, glass, and a leather or metal strap, so most kinds of watches rely on mining.
They also have similar lifespans; most watch batteries need to be replaced within two years, but the watch itself could last a lifetime.
However, mechanical watches may be more sustainable than quartz watches, given that they do not need batteries.
4. Are There Eco-Friendly Quartz Watches?
There does not seem to be an eco-friendly quartz watch.
Quartz watches are generally made with clear quartz crystals.
However, research suggested that mining rose quartz with a needle-like inclusion method reduced the negative environmental impacts.
But it is not clear if the same method would be appropriate for clear quartz or if rose quartz can be used in watches.
While solar-powered watches exist, solar-powered quartz watches do not seem to be a common option.