2014 - Sustainable Industrial Processing Summit & Exhibition
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  29 June - 04 July 2014, Fiesta Americana Condesa Cancun All Inclusive Resort, Cancun, Mexico
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John Meech

University of British Columbia

Sustainable Mining: Is That Really Possible?
Summit Plenary

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The concept of Sustainable Mining has recently been adopted by many mainstream senior mining companies as a new approach to decision-making in the mining industry. On the surface, the term seems contradictory since once an orebody has been mined, it no longer exists and therefore the activity cannot be sustainable in the same way that agriculture, fishing, and forestry can operate. So, one must take a slightly different approach to the idea of Sustainability. Our modern society needs raw materials to support so much of what we take for granted these days. To obtain such materials by mining, huge amounts of rock (considered waste) must be mined and moved from one place to another. As such, placement of this waste requires consideration of the new principles of Sustainable Mining with respect to protecting the environment and with respect to the impact on local communities. Similarly, the diffusion of the extracted raw materials leads to the eventual wasting of these values when we discard our cell-phones and other electronic devices after they have been replaced by the very-latest, newly-designed one. The average useful life-time of these devices is now approaching half a year. So in this case, we must examine ways to recover and recycle such throw-aways to generate a new source of "raw materials". The miners of the 21st Century will be an Urban Miner operating recycling plants on some of the richest "orebodies" that have been manufactured by our collective consumptive behaviour. This paper will discuss these new directions in our industry in which the majority of the unexploited orebodies of our Earth exist only as low-grade deposits or at very deep locations or at the bottom of the oceans. Mining of asteroids is also becoming a potential source, but that is hardly sustainable at the moment. The 21st Century will see a transition towards more Urban-Mining activities as these operations become competitive with the more difficult-to-mine orebodies that remain in our world.

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