We have attained such an enormous level of consumption of our mineral wealth that good quality deposits of many elements have already disappeared while many others are in the process of being depleted.
These resources belong to our children and grand children as much as they do to us. It is high time now that we should seriously think about conserving them. Important steps which may be taken to make these deposits last longer are:
1. Economy in use of Mineral Resources:
The simplest way to conserve mineral resources is to practice economy in the use of metals and minerals. Careful use, or use only where it is necessary can reduce much of consumption of metals and minerals.
Most of the metals and minerals are cheap because of the importance of mining industry in the development of a country; Governments provide plenty of subsidies in the form of land at a throw away prices, cheap power, subsidized fossil fuels, large loans and generous tax exemptions. Many industrialized nations also try to ensure access to cheap mineral supplies through their international trade and policies.
The lure of large revenues, generous financial assistance, finished products, arms and other necessities force poor countries to sell their mineral wealth at a cheap price. It is mainly due to their low prices that minerals and mineral products are freely used, even at places where they are hardly required. A little restriction and taxation could cause the minerals to become more expensive which in turn shall curtail unnecessary over-consumption.
2. Making Finished Products Long Lasting:
The ‘use and throw away practice’ of Western society after a product has lost its utility is a wasteful practice. The metal components in the product are also discarded and wasted. A study by the United States Office of Technology (Washington D.C.) in 1979 pointed out that repairs and re-use is a very promising method of conservation of metals and mineral products. Metal containing products, for example automobiles, should be so manufactured as to last longer, and be repairable to be used again or their components if in working condition may be used again and again.
Some metals are irrecoverably lost to the environment due to mishandling, corrosion, wear and tear. Of about 600 kg of per capita steel used in USA, for example, more than one-third is lost to be never recovered. The average life span of all steel in use varies between 25-30 years while that of other metals is somewhat shorter. To make a mineral product or an object made of metal last longer we shall have to prevent its corrosion, wear and tear and the irrecoverable losses.
3. Re-Use and Re-Cycling of Metals:
As rapid consumption of virgin minerals depletes our resources – why not use mineral products more efficiently or again and again. A machine having brass components can be pulled apart, its components used to make another object of utility. In India most of the copper, brass, bronze and aluminum objects are regularly recycled.
4. Use of Cheaper Substitutes:
There are a number of finished products in which cheaper material other than metals may be used. Why use a metal bucket when cheaper plastic buckets art available. Wherever possible cheaper materials may be substituted for mineral products and metals, Synthetic plastics offer a promising opportunity which are becoming cheaper and cheaper every year.
5. More Efficient Recovery of Materials from Minerals:
A number of minerals occur as a complex mixture of a number of elements. An ore is never pure. Even ores with a metal content as high as 20% may contain other elements which are either discarded as tailings during concentration or during smelting. We are technologically competent enough to devise methods to recover or separate out most of the useful elements present in an ore. The cost may be heavy but the practice shall pay in the long run.
6. Search for New Deposits:
We have entered an era of an advanced state of science and technology. But still we do not know much about our planet. Much of the rock formations and earth’s treasures are still unknown to science. Greater part of South America, Africa, and Asia has not yet been thoroughly explored. An intensive search is expected to reveal a number of deposits which shall naturally enlarge our mineral resources.
7. Protection of Existing Mineral Deposits:
Most of the mineral deposits are left as such on the mercy of agencies of weathering, decay and dissemination after extraction of good quality materials. As we deplete our better grade ores, it is likely that low quality ores which were once discarded as waste material could be in demand again. The reclamation of mining site which involves, restoration of deposit’s original plant and soil cover should be made a statutory responsibility of every miner. Apart from preventing wastage of resources the practice shall also curb a number of pollution problems.