Mining: should it be banned, or are there alternative ways?

Author: Eduarda

Translator: Eduarda

Mining has created a positive impact on the growing economy of most countries. However, it is not wihout negative costs—slavery, invasion preservation areas its native population, loss of biodiversity and vegetation. The decline in the natural reserves of African, Asian and tropical countries has intensified in the last decade.

Recents reports from NYDF  (New York Declaration on Forests) states that most of the deforestation comes from agriculture. Although mining is responsible for 10% of the deforestation in the Amazon, the World Bank estimates that 44% of all mining operations in the world are in our forests. In particular, Brazil mining  deforestation have increased  more than 90% between 2017 to 2020 reaching 101.7 k㎡ annually in 2020 compared to 52.9 k㎡ annually in 2017. 

Mining: paying the price

Experts estimate that around 14,000 people are currently involved in illegal mining. 

Experts estimate that around 14,000 people are currently involved in illegal mining in South Africa. Lives are in danger because of illegal mining because regulations are not followed. 

The environmental impact such  as contamination from mercury to discharge mine effluent and seepage from tailings and waste rock impoundments, affect the quality of water in rivers. The water used in agriculture is responsible for 80% of consumption of water in the world. 

Another issue, specifically with mines in Africa, is open-pit mines, when left abandoned  fill up with stagnant water which becomes infested with mosquitos. This became ideal breeding areas for malaria and other deadly diseases.

The NYDF further states that the mining industry now recognizes the negative impact on the environment.  But recognition alone  is not  enough because the number of mines have  increased in the ten years. So can compromise be made to both benefit the environment and the economy?

Ways to partner with the environment

We can stop mining, but this is not a viable solution.The functions of our industries depend on mining extraction for  cell phones, cars, energy towers, solar panels, wind turbines, fertilizers, machinery and construction. 

So our reliance on extraction mining is crucial. But we can minimize environmental impact. And to ensure its success, laws and proper implementation must be applied.

  • Lower-impact mining techniques: In Situ Leach mining (ISL), is better for the environment and is cheaper than many forms of mining. 

ISL is commonly used in uranium mining. It involves pumping water underground in order to dissolve the minerals from the ore.  This technique  is eco-friendly and companies could significantly  reduce the  impact  on soil erosion.  It makes it easier when preparing a site for quick vegetation rehabilitation.

  • Reusing mining waste: Another method is reusing the waste produced by the mines. Mining produces significant waste that could be reused like water.  When adequately treated can be reused and serve for use in agriculture as coolant.  It can be used for on-site dust suppression and even for drinking water. Tailings, which are often toxic and left behind in mine sites, can find eco-friendly use. 
  • Rehabilitation mining sites: Fortunately, this damage isn’t guaranteed to be permanent, Mining companies can use land rehabilitation techniques such as biosolids to replenish depleted topsoil. 

Often, many former mining sites are left unproductive, unusable by landowners. In some cases, almost entirely inhospitable to plant and animal life because the top soil essential for growth is gone leaving it prone to soil erosion. But soil with biosolids, if seeded and watered, can produce vegetation capable of preventing further soil erosion.

Final thoughts

Lack of regulations, public policies in economic terms, costs governments between 12 billion – 48 billion dollars per year.

In Brazil, one of the biggest concerns is with the isolated indigenous population. The biggest increase was during the period of  the Covid-19 pandemic—51% more than in all of 2019.

Therefore, It is necessary for countries to create strategies to invest in technology and restrict mining companies so they have the lowest extraction processes.  


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