The mining industry is gradually beginning to develop new technologies that are energy-efficient and only leave clean water, rehabilitated landscapes and healthy eco-systems behind, but despite the amount of scepticism surrounding the idea of the mining industry going green, it is really happening. Canada is one of the leading countries that are being active in developing multidisciplinary projects within the mining industry in order to develop green technologies, processes and knowledge for sustainable mining. With an aim to improve the mining industry’s environmental performance, this is beginning to catch on globally. With many believing that sustainable mining is somewhat of an oxymoron, and with a long history of environmental devastation and human tragedies, companies are being encouraged to act more socially and environmentally responsibly.
Companies are beginning to develop innovative, high performance equipment for mining, that are versatile and set up for maximum profitability and productivity, without compromising the environment. This development is an important step for the mining industry to go green, and some believe that the biggest step for the mining industry to go green is to focus on conserving and recycling minerals rather than consistently digging up new ones. However, remediation is only one part of reducing the environmental impact of mining.
Two major methods of implementing a greener mining industry come down to government regulation and innovative technologies. So far, new mining technologies and regulations have significantly improved environmental impact over the years and mining techniques gradually have become more environmentally sensitive. Better regulation generally ensures that mining is cleaner and less damaging. Mining technologies such as mining from tailings, dust suppression techniques, liquid membrane emulsion technology, sulphuric acid leaching extraction process and a choice of ventilation and diesel engines are all effective in reducing the environmental impact of mining, although it is unreasonable to expect every mining company to adopt every technology.
In addition to this, the amount of minerals that are extractable on the planet is finite and some people believe that sustainable mining includes meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Recent Australian research suggests that the tiny microbes found in termite guts could help mining remediation, and contribute to mining is the rehabilitation, in turn paying big dividends for the planet. This is just one example of the on-going research into the mining industry going green.
Even with the best intentions, the status quo indicates that new mines are likely to open without rigorous environmental standards, particularly in under-developed or under-regulated countries. However, with China and the United States leading the mining industry, making up some of the biggest and most expansive mines in the world, environmental regulations is possibly the most important way to help reduce carbon emissions and other toxicities into the atmosphere, as well as reducing the invasiveness of the industry. With many green mining innovation programmes set to take place by 2020, such as the Green Mining Program by Finnish company Tekes, there are sure to be significant changes to the mining industry in an attempt to continue to make it greener. If mining does manage to go greener, then there will be a vast reduction in contaminant materials such as radionuclides, dust, metal and other waste materials, as well as harmful gas emissions that affect both the environment and human health being emitted into the atmosphere. On top of this, gases that are harming the atmosphere will be reduced, erosion and invasive processes into endangered species habitat will decline, and waste-water will be recycled in order to be much more sustainable.