Sustainable mining is the buzzword of the industry at the moment and the sector is transforming fast, focusing on going green. As global leaders, scientists, and activists draw global attention to our need to preserve the environment and lower carbon emissions, miners are focusing on contributing to sustainable development.

It is known that the extractives industry can cause severe destruction to local ecosystems, the environment, and the lives of people in communities situated near mining sites (also called host communities). Paradoxically, however, mining is also needed for sustainable development in the world.

The materials extracted from mines are essential for the production of green technology and infrastructure that lowers humanity’s carbon footprint, such as solar power panels and electric vehicles (EVs). Cobalt is in particularly high demand due to being effective in lithium-ion batteries which are used to power EVs (as well as mobile phones, laptops, and other such devices).

It is possible for mines to transform their operations in a sustainable way that generates fewer carbon emissions and waste, gives back to and avoids disrupting nearby communities, and even rehabilitates and restores the local environment.

How can mining operations become more sustainable?

Mines can reduce their carbon and waste output through various means. The following outline what the mining industry can do to become more eco-friendly and sustainable in general.

Employ mining techniques that are more gentle to the environment

Lower-impact mining techniques do exist that miners can use to lessen a mine’s harm to the environment. These are different from high-impact traditional mining methods that can be extremely damaging.

One low-impact mining technique is in-situ leaching. Using lower-impact techniques can mean less soil erosion and stripping of topsoil, less surface interference, and less moving of materials. These do not disturb the environment at mine sites as much and also make it easier to rehabilitate these sites later on.

Miners can also invest in environmentally-friendlier battery-operated equipment to lessen the impact of their activities.

Restore the local environment and rehabilitate mining sites

Mines have a high impact on their immediate environments, creating soil erosion, removing nutrient-rich topsoil as well as acidity in the soil and water, both of which make the sites unwelcoming to vegetation and uninhabitable for animals, making it difficult for flora and fauna to return to these sites.

Mining companies can help these environments to recover and replenish them through various rehabilitation techniques. They could carry out reforestation initiatives to return indigenous plants to the areas. Waste rocks can be used to fill dug-out areas, biosolids can help impoverished topsoil recover.

Rectify incorrect waste disposal and reduce waste output

The disposal of waste such as rocks, wastewater, and tailings produced in the mining process is a huge environmental issue for many mines, particularly when companies do not incorrectly dispose of waste, ignoring regulations.

Tailings disposal in particular is frequently found to cause the most harm to the environment and contaminate it. Mines generate more tailings, material byproducts of mining operations, than storage of tailings often allows.

What’s more, miners are increasingly extracting from lower-grade ores due to the increasing demand for mined materials. Mining from these low-grade ores means more tailings are left over, and the amount of tailings generated by mines has risen significantly over the years. Some mines produce over 200,000 tonnes of tailings every day.

There are technologies and equipment that can be used to recycle waste into scrap and reusable materials; mines can also take up and follow policies around greener waste disposal methods.

There are also many uses for wastewater in mining when it is reused as greywater. Greywater can be utilised in cleaning mining equipment, flushing toilets at mines sites, and more. Meanwhile, water that can’t be recycled must be safely disposed of.

Correct waste disposal is vital to curbing the environmental impact of mines, as some mining companies do not dispose of their waste according to guidelines. Companies can invest in equipment that helps in turning waste into reusable material, as well as adopt policies that allow for a more eco-friendly waste disposal routine.

Lower operations’ input and output

Inputs in mining refer to the resources that go into mining operations. Establishing and operating mines uses a huge amount of three resources: land, water, and energy. Reducing how much of these are used would make mining more eco-friendly and sustainable.

To lower input, mines can do things like turn to renewable and clean power sources such as solar or wind energy to power operations. This not only saves on the remaining fossil fuel reserves but also lowers carbon emissions. Mines can also pump groundwater and divert surface water toward their operations.

Give back to and lessen the impact on host communities

Fortunately, miners are becoming more considerate of the communities that will be affected by a mining site and its operations. Giving back to these communities and involving them in the planning process of mines is an example of how mines can have a holistic approach to sustainability.

Providing things like essential services and facilities, communications, and infrastructure, as well as jobs, to host communities are some of the things mining firms can do to benefit and sustain communities near mine sites instead of negatively impacting their quality of life or livelihoods. Involving members of communities in the planning phases of mines and taking their views and needs into account is also a good sustainable practice for miners.

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