How the mining industry can become more sustainable

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Improving sustainability in mining. Image via Pexels.

The mining and processing of natural materials reinforce modern-day technology and infrastructure. Over three billion tonnes of metals are manufactured annually over the globe and this demand will likely increase in the upcoming future – most likely due to the uptake in renewable energy sources and electric vehicles. In order for the world to shift towards a more sustainable future, more mining will need to occur, which in itself induces the processing of non-renewable energy resources.

Use Eco-friendly Tools and Equipment

Fuel-based mining equipment is a large contributor to CO2 emissions, as are the majority of construction and industry paraphernalia. Recently, there has been a considerable shift toward battery-driven forms of equipment, which are powerful enough to replace those that utilise diesel. As an example, cordless battery chainsaws are able to endure the same line of work and also improve the safety of workers by removing the hazard of cables near workstations. Companies may also choose to look into renewable energy sources to power their operations, in the form of solar or wind energy. Unification of these opportunities can greatly reduce the production of greenhouse gases and ultimately reduce costs, due to the ever-increasing price of non-renewable energy sources.

Recycle and Reuse Materials

The rates of recycling for metals are typically very low; even if these were to increase, they would still not meet the growing demand. As an example, around 50% of copper in products is recycled, but this only meets 25% of the overall demand. As a result, this means that our supply of copper is heavily dependent on the rate that mining is conducted. To overcome this, as a society, we should try to reduce our expenditure of metal through more efficient usage and increasing the amount of materials that we are reusing and recycling – this way, we can slowly improve the sustainability of metals.

Low-Interference Mining Practices

Large-scale mining is well-known for its devastating effects on the environment, with open pit and underground mining leading to significant environmental catastrophes. Around 7% of forests are depleted each year from air pollution and acid rain, which can lead to irreversible, long-term damage that continues long after the mining has ended. Innovative, low-impact techniques for mining are now being introduced, that reduce the disturbance of surfaces at mining sites. This also lowers the erosion of soil and the aggregate of materials needed to backfill the site once complete.

Rehabilitation of Mining Sites

Reducing the interference has the benefit of lowering the impact on the environment whilst efficiently preparing the site for eventual rehabilitation. At this stage, companies can use a variety of techniques to revert the land back to its former state and speed up the recovery process. With the use of certain biosolids to replenish the soil lost during mining, vegetation can be restored – some plants can even prevent the further erosion of soil in a relatively short space of time. Several corporations are even starting to go to lengths to implement reforestation schemes, in which they attempt to restore the local species affected by mining procedures.

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