Metals (mining, minerals)

Metals are used in everything. Steel holds our buildings, bridges and appliances together. Aluminum is used wherever weight is important. Lithium is the high profile metal for storage batteries, used widely in renewable energy installations to store energy for later use. Lithium batteries are now de rigeur for electric transportation and homes. Copper is used for conducting electricity. All metals are on the verge of scarcity. Rare earths, while treated as a separate topic, are also metals and share much of the current discussions.

As this revealing article shows, the supremely dominant mode of thinking is how large corporations can find sources of metals in the earth and set up extraction projects – mines – to get them from the ground and into ponds, tanks and trucks to take them to refineries and factories where they will be incorporated into products. When the metal ores are exhausted, the disturbed, contaminated, desertified ground is abandoned for the unfortunate people of the country to try to recover or clean up again at huge expense.

Usually the people living near these monuments to extraction are themselves ground down into polluted natives who labor in horrible conditions to extract the minerals. The home country is corrupted with graft and payoffs so that the high politicians are paid off while the population is impoverished. See the book Cobalt Red by Siddharth Kara to learn how cobalt mining is destroying swaths of the Congo (DRC) especially Katanga province. There are protests against mining throughout the world but the application of terror and raw power normally repress the objections in blood, vicious attacks and legal oppression.

As always in this website, the focus is on recovery and reuse of products. As you read the article on mining, take note of the virtual absence of any discussion of reuse which is based on designing products for effective and large scale reuse. Instead, all you will find are discussions of recycling! Recycling! Why is that? What is the difference between Zero Waste style reuse and recycling? Simply this. ZW reuse means that the methods of production of all products is controlled in order to insure that pathways of reuse are built into the products. This would be seen as the anathema of all manufacturers – regulation! But recycling, on the other hand, means that there is no regulation of how to produce anything. It is thrown out onto the market, used, abused, destroyed and discarded. Then, for the first time, an attempt is made to find some low level way to again extract the metals alone. At one stroke, all talk of the hated regulation is aborted, avoided, shut down. This is why recycling is so beloved of the manufacturing class so that it is supported, financed and written about exclusively.

See individual products for a further discussion of reuse versus recycling.