Top 10 Ways to Make Mines More Environmentally Friendly

- Top 10 - Apr 29, 2014

1. Closing illegal and unregulated mines

In context with enforcing regulations and maintaining steadfast legislation regarding a mine’s behavior and processes, the strict and swift closing of illegal or unregulated mining activity will set an environmental precedent within the industry.

For example, before 2010, most mines in China were completely unregulated when it came to the environment and the shortcomings it was bringing to surrounding Chinese areas. After years of lax regulation and undisciplined treatment of illegal, unpermitted mines, China's government responded to a wave of public protest and partly in its own self-interest enacted new policy measures for greener mining. These were codified in the Rare Earth Industrial Development Policy. The following regulations are the most important out of those now in practice, and they are being enforced to discourage illegal and environmentally careless mining. These measures are not yet all fully implemented in China, but the legal productivity and environmental impact are set to increase by two-fold thanks to the closure of the illegal activity, and the cultivation of the existing legal mines.

2. Scrap mining and recycling

On a global scale, mining corporations around the world are discovering efficient ways to capitalize fully on materials in order to provide the goods and services people want using much less wood, metal, stone, plastic and other materials. By reducing the amount of wasteful use on a public and private level, and by steering production towards the sole use of durable goods that can be easily reusable, re-manufactured, or recycled, the mining industry can begin to reduce its impact on an international scale.

This creative trend of scrap mining, or utilizing ever-reusable resource for other mining initiatives, stems from the recognition of the environmental costs of excessive materials use. Mining exacts a severe and sometimes irreversible toll on public health, water and air quality, fish and wildlife habitat, and community interests. “Recognizing that "business-as-usual" practices are unsustainable, some nations, international organizations, and environmental groups are calling for major reductions in materials use-often by as much as 90 percent,” reports the Canary Institute in Canada.  

3. Better legislation and regulations

Standard legislation concerning the efficiency of mining is a long way off from being the most productive and most strict government mandates that exists today. Obviously these regulations differ between nations, with some countries more advanced in terms of their legislation than others, however the need for improvement is always there in this industry, which inevitably causes some environmental damage.

In Canada for example, mines like the Island Copper Mine on Vancouver Island stands as a highly regulated mine site that operated from 1971 until 1995 when it was closed for resource depletion. It was due to the regulation and control of the government that a detailed mine closure plan was developed to comfortably close the mine in order to protect the few resources which remained, and the B.C. enacted the contaminated sites regulation process which was awarded the Certificate of Conditional Compliance.  It is this kind of federal regulation that will not only protect environmental and public health, but that will improve the lifespan of the mining industry.

4. Improving environmental performance

Mining impacts the environment in unnatural ways, which not only disrupts its natural decaying process, but also does more damage long-term than natural erosion processes. With exorbitant numbers of materials excavated and used daily, it is important to see that this destruction is actually going towards productive use.

By systematically examining environmental impacts and adopting measures to mitigate these impacts, it is possible to make mining less destructive of the environment. Incremental efficiency gains will not do the job. Instead, an imaginative remaking of the industrial world-one that aligns economies with the natural environment that supports them is the sustainable way forward. Recycling has a number of advantages. Canada’s offices like The Pembina Institute, the Natural Step and The National Office of Pollution Prevention are all behind these huge pushes towards not only monitoring mining manufacturing performance, but environmental performance as well.

5. Accurate tallying of toxic mining waste

Another problem with the whole sustainable mining debate has to do with secrecy in reporting toxic mining waste. Mining companies have not been accurately reporting the amounts being dumped into the environment and in doing so, have kept the public in the dark. Most notably this has been occurring with the Canadian people as of late, with a huge public backlash being the center of much of the mining industry controversy being targeted on accurate waste tallying lately. While sustainable mining looks good on paper and seems easy enough to follow provincial or federal guidelines, the industry has a way to go before it can be considered even remotely green. 

6. Building from reusable waste

Not only can mining present a hazard to the environment, but it can also be seen as a toll on public health if appropriate measures are not taken to ensure that the mining process is being done as safely and efficiently as possible. Case studies from mines around the world have provided numerous success stories of corporations and private mines alike being able to build new construction and infrastructure from the reusable materials that a mine site presents. For example, aluminum can be substituted as a recyclable material rather than using bauxite ore, which is a rarer and less reusable item.

By noticing the small details of the products used and generated in a mine site, the mining industry can make strides towards being a more sustainable industry. Tricks like recycling copper, which takes seven times less energy than processing ore, recycling steel which uses three-and-a-half times less energy than ore, can go a long way in determining the longevity of a mine and its positive environmental impact.

7. Closing and reclaiming sites of shut-down mines

The dangers of allowing no longer working mines to exist can not only allowing wasted debris the opportunity to rot and decay on site, but it can lead to illegal or unregulated mining activity. Enacting small decommissioning groups and contractors to take apart the mining processing facilities and plants; this process will allow the pipelines to be drained, equipment and parts of the mine to be cleaned and sold off, the buildings can be repurposed or demolished, warehouse materials recovered, and wasted disposed of.

The main objective in the reclaiming process is to return the sire and the land which surrounds it back to reusable standards, ensuring that any landforms and structures are stable, and why watercourses need to be evaluated in order to regain water quality within the affected area.

8. Investing in research and development of Green Mining Technology

The mining industry is one that is always in need of proper research and development in order to make sure the industry to ever-changing with today’s commitment to sustainability and turning the world into a more “green friendly’ place. Through either state of federal agencies, collecting funding and allowing that funding to be dispersed into ROD funds for Green Mining can be one way to positively impact the environment before and after mining projects. By pushing the envelope and never letting the future slip too far from reach, staying ahead can prevent unnecessary waste in the sense of less reusable materials, better efficiency and a better understood industry. 

9. Replenishing the environment

A seemingly simple but rarely prioritized activity, replenishing mine sites and mine environments is one of the key factors to not only earning the respect and cooperation of those living near the mine, but will ultimately protect the mine’s impact on the environment. Simple solutions like replenishing native soils and grasses, cleaning excess waste, proper waste removal, site inspections and replanting trees and natural forestry can rejuvenate a long-term ecosystem repair and sustain the environment for years beyond when the mine is no longer operating. The entire reclamation process should include: removing hazardous materials, reshaping land, restoring topsoil, and planting native grasses, trees or ground cover natural to the site.

10. Improving the efficiency of manufacturing processes

By targeting the goal of closely monitoring the standard mining supply chain, mining industry giants will be forced to confront the ways in which a company can improve its efficiency by seeing exactly where the organization is lacking in terms of sustainability and green mining initiatives. This supervision of the manufacturing process is essential in order to develop new ways of thinking, new metrics, and new management/supervisory tools that will help cushion the transition into more efficient and less environmentally-harmful patterns of resource use in modern societies.

Organizations like The World Resources Institute are currently conducting research on the most frequently used resources and materials, in order to better understand how the industry can conserve its non-renewable materials. The WRI has been working towards developing a database, and can now indicate the flow of materials through industrial economies. Material flows analyses will track the physical flows of natural resources through extraction, production, fabrication, use and recycling, and final disposal, accounting for both the gains and losses occurring throughout the supply chain.

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