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Is responsible mining possible?

  • by JW

“Our reliance on the industry makes it more important than ever to do what we can to operate using sustainable practices.” [Atkinsons Bullion] 


Mining is a very sensitive issue.

In the run-up to the festive season, there will again be the debate over reindeer and the Sami way of life being threatened by mining interests.

There is the ongoing debate over how ‘green’ electric vehicles are – partly because of the cobalt in your car battery, much of which is mined in very unsustainable and socially irresponsible ways. 

On the other hand, there are suggested ways out of these practices, including local production of key minerals, with Cornwall ‘looking to become a global hub for sourcing’ lithium, another key battery component.

However, when it comes to mining [or quarrying] locally it is not so straightforward. In 2021 plans for a 150-acre quarry near Ottery were rejected, and yet earlier this year, permission was finally granted to quarry following a public inquiry. Meanwhile, not far from Frome last year, the promise of up to 300 new jobs was given as the reason for supporting plans for a new concrete factory near one of the area’s main quarries.

Perhaps, then, we need to be really inventive. For example, we are beginning to recycle, repair and  reuse buildings, which is being dubbed ‘urban mining’  as a really sustainable look to sourcing key minerals.

And yet, in the heart of Sidmouth, the only mention of ‘sustainability’ from the developers of the town’s most contentious site is the ‘sustainable location’ of Knowle, otherwise known as ‘greenwashing‘, as retrofitting the old HQ would have been ‘more sustainable’ and ‘better for the environment’.

“Our annual report finds industry efforts to avoid funding human rights abuses worsening almost across the board” August 2023: Microsoft’s concerning conflict minerals disclosure reflects industry-wide slippage |

To finish with parts of the world where most of our minerals come from, the mining industry has been keen to clean up its image – whether it’s ‘blood diamonds‘ in Africa, ‘blood gold’ in the Brazilian rain forest or ‘blood mineral’ traders in Rwanda helping to fund Congo rebels. As highlighted by the Responsible Minerals Initiative:

“Conflict minerals,” as defined by the US legislation, currently include the metals tantalum, tin, tungsten and gold, which are the extracts of the minerals cassiterite, columbite-tantalite and wolframite, respectively. Downstream companies often refer to the extracts of these minerals as 3TG.

Meanwhile, the bullion traders Atkinsons have produced an extensive overview of responsible mining in developing countries – including a reminder of how much we in Britain depend on these resources:

In the UK, mining is still at the forefront of most metal production, with as much as 40 million tonnes of metal imported every year from global supply chains... If the numbers tell us nothing else, it’s that mining still plays a crucial part in the progression and development of the world around us. This reliance on the industry makes it more important than ever to do what we can to operate using sustainable practices. 

And whilst the Atkinsons report states that billions in sustainable financial incentives are being offered to mining companies, the 2023 Banking on Climate Chaos report from the Rainforest Action Network notes that banks are continuing to increase their financing of coal mining, to take but one investment sector.

So, yes, mining continues to be a very sensitive issue…