August 2008

Voices from Industry

Mining and sustainability

By D. Lindsay

Try to imagine a world without metals and you may find yourself thinking about what it must have been like to live in the Stone Age. Today, we are surrounded by technologies and innovations that touch every facet of our lives and yet we don’t often link mining and the resources it makes available with the food and nutrition, shelter, energy, and transportation we enjoy every day.

In our industry we like to say, “if you can’t grow it, you have to mine it,” and that statement should make one pause to think about the tremendous role that metals play in advancing our quality of life. And in caring for our planet, the more our society embraces sustainability, the more we need the products of mining.

As provocative as that may sound, consider the following. The 2008 Copenhagen Consensus, a two-year study by more than 50 eminent economists to find the 10 best solutions to the world’s biggest problems, identified micro-nutrient dietary supplementation, particularly zinc and vitamin A, as the top global priority for fighting malnutrition in the 140 million children around the world who are malnourished.

Not only is zinc an essential trace element for humans, zinc is critical for the normal healthy growth and reproduction of plants. When the supply of zinc to plants is inadequate, crop yields are reduced and the quality of crop products is often impaired. Zinc is the third most important nutritional factor affecting grain yield after nitrogen and phosphorous.

In healthcare, the United States Environmental Protection Agency recently approved the registration of antimicrobial copper alloys for coatings on surfaces in hospitals because studies have shown that 99.9 per cent of “super-bugs” exposed to these surfaces are killed within two hours at room temperature. Currently, it is estimated that in the U.S. alone infections acquired in hospitals affect two million individuals every year and result in nearly 100,000 deaths.

In our pursuit of innovations in cleaner energy and transportation solutions, consider that 90 per cent of solar panels require silver and they all use silicon. A wind turbine requires 170 tonnes of coking coal to produce a 70-metre tower. A hybrid automobile needs about 15 more kilograms of copper and 20 more kilograms of nickel than a conventional car, while an electric bus requires almost 1,700 metres of copper wiring.

Indeed, as we move forward to address climate change, innovation will play an important part in shifting to technologies that reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and in reducing the carbon intensity of resource extraction and utilization. However, it is also clear that society will continue to benefit from and rely on the use of carbon-based energy for generations to come. Accordingly, our industry will need to play a leading role in developing improvements in energy-efficient production and in contributing to advances in carbon sequestration solutions and off-set measures.

And what about how we deal with products at the end of their life? Metals can be recycled indefinitely without loosing any of their properties. At our Trail smelting and refining facility, we are uniquely positioned to provide recycling solutions for metal-bearing manufacturing scraps and residues and post-consumer scrap materials.

Our pioneering efforts in recycling spent lead acid batteries led to collaboration with the B.C. Government and other stakeholders in the development of Canada’s first provincial Lead Acid Battery Collection Program. The Trail facility continues to annually recycle thousands of tonnes of lead acid battery products from customers and collectors.

A more recent initiative has been recycling of end-of-life-electronic (EOLE) equipment, also known as electronic waste or e-waste. Our electronics recycling process, in collaboration with the B.C. Ministry of the Environment, has been tested and proven to meet the exacting environmental standards needed for the responsible processing of e-waste. We are proud to be part of the solution to managing the growing volumes of end-of-life electronic equipment generated by our modern society.

As we look to the future, achieving sustainability will ultimately depend on the collective outcomes of our individual choices and actions. Sustainability depends on each of us participating in its pursuit by being aware of the resources that we use daily to make life better, and choosing how we can use and recycle them most wisely.

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