One of the most important directions for reducing environmental impacts of mining is to increase "mineral efficiency". In the long term, it is our responsibility as a society to reduce our consumption of (virgin) metals, to make fullest use of the very recyclable properties of metals, and to reduce the massive inputs of energy and water necessary to process minerals.
Mineral efficiency means:
- Increasing the efficiency of mineral production. The mining industry accounts for between 5 and 10% of energy consumption worldwide, and is a major contributor to solid waste in the form of waste rock and tailings. By demanding greater efficiencies in production, we can reduce contributions to global warming from mineral refineries (like the Trail smelter shown here) and other environmental impacts.
- Reducing non-essential mineral use. Despite its relatively low population, Canada is in the top 20 countries worldwide in consumption of aluminum, copper, magnesium, nickel, tin, and zinc. Many new technologies provide opportunities to use more benign materials in the place of minerals whose production has heavy environmental impacts; examples include the substitution of fibre optics for copper wiring. Gold - used predominantly for jewelry - is the source of some of the greatest environmental damage from mining worldwide.
- Making the best possible use of the metals and other metals currently in circulation. Metals are ideal for recycling, as they do not lose their mechanical and metallurgical properties when recycled, and therefore can be recycled an infinite number of times.