Category Archives: Environmental impact

Extracting Metals from E-Waste Costs 13 Times Less Than Mining Ore

Photo: An imported laptop housings pile in Guiyu, China. Credit: Basel Action Network, Flickr Creative Commons

Alyssa Danigelis | Environmental Leader | April 9, 2018

Recovering gold, copper, and other metals from electronic waste isn’t just sustainable, it’s actually 13 times cheaper than extracting metals from mines, researchers report in the American Chemical Society’s journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Researchers from Tsinghua University in Beijing and Macquarie University in Australia looked at data from eight recycling companies in China and calculated the cost for extracting metals from e-waste in a practice called urban mining. They note that a typical cathode-ray tube TV contains almost a pound of copper and more than half a pound of aluminum. It also contains 0.02 ounces of gold.

The recyclers’ expenses, which were offset by government subsidies and revenue from selling the recovered materials and components, included costs for waste collection, labor, energy, material and transportation plus capital costs for equipment and buildings, according to American Chemical Society.

“The researchers conclude that with these offsets, it costs 13 times more to obtain these metals from ore than from urban mining,” the ACS says.

Although the study was limited to copper and gold extracted and processed from e-waste streams made up of recycled TV sets, the researchers say their results indicate a trend and potential to be applied across a broader range of e-waste sources and extracted metals.

“If these results can be extended to other metals and countries, they promise to have positive impact on waste disposal and mining activities globally, as the circular economy comes to displace linear economic pathways,” they wrote in the abstract.

Extracting metals from e-waste has long made financial and environmental sense to companies like Dell. Michael Murphy, vice president of global product compliance engineering and environmental affairs at Dell Technologies, told Environmental Leader that PCs are a complex product type, but value streams come out of them.

“One key is the extraction of precious metals,” he said. “We’ve helped design for recyclability so our partners can get the materials that are of most value easily, and either get them back into our product or into other sectors.”

Earlier this year, Dell collaborated with actress and activist Nikki Reed on a limited edition jewelry collection made in the United States using gold recovered from Dell’s recycling programs. Since 2012, the company says it has turned more than 50 million pounds of post-consumer recycled materials into new products.

The 3rd Annual Environmental Leader & Energy Manager Conference takes place May 15 – 17, 2018 in Denver

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Deep-sea mining possibly as damaging as land mining, lawyers say

Deep-sea mining off Papua New Guinea’s coast. Legal and environmental groups warn of danger to the environment and Indigenous groups who live nearby

Environmental and legal groups warn of potential huge effects on Indigenous people and the environment

Ben Doherty | The Guardian | 18 April 2018 

The “new global gold rush” over deep-sea mining holds the same potential pitfalls as previous resource scrambles, with environmental and social impacts ignored and the rights of Indigenous people marginalised, a paper in the Harvard Environmental Law Review has warned.

A framework for deep-sea mining – where polymetallic nodules or hydrothermal vents are mined by machine – was first articulated in the 1960s, on an idea that the seabed floor beyond national jurisdiction was a “common heritage of mankind”.

But exploration has gathered momentum in the past three years, with licences granted off Papua New Guinea’s coastlines, and successful mining off Japan late last year. The International Seabed Authority, which is drawing up a draft mining code, has issued 29 exploration contracts for undersea mining in international waters beyond any national jurisdiction.

Proponents argue deep-sea mining could yield far superior ore to land mining – in silver, gold, copper, manganese, cobalt and zinc – with little, if any, waste product. Different methods exist, but most involve using some form of converted machinery previously used in terrestrial mining to excavate materials from the sea floor, at depths of up to 6,000 metres, then drawing a seawater slurry to ships on the surface. The slurry is then “de-watered” and transferred to another vessel for shipping. Extracted seawater is pumped back down and discharged close to the sea floor.

But environmental and legal groups have urged caution, arguing there are potentially massive – and unknown – ramifications for the environment and for nearby communities, and that the global regulatory framework is not yet drafted, and currently deficient.

“Despite arising in the last half century, the ‘new global gold rush’ of deep-sea mining shares many features with past resource scrambles – including a general disregard for environmental and social impacts, and the marginalisation of Indigenous peoples and their rights,” the paper, written by Julie Hunter and Julian Aguon, from Blue Ocean Law, and Pradeep Singh, from the Center for Marine Environmental Sciences, Bremen, argues.

The authors say that knowledge of the deep seabed remains extremely limited.

“The surface of the moon, Mars and even Venus have all been mapped and studied in much greater detail, leading marine scientists to commonly remark that, with respect to the deep sea, ‘We don’t yet know what we need to know.’ ”

Scientific research – including a recent paper in Marine Policy journal – has suggested the deep seabed, and hydrothermal vents in particular, have crucial impacts upon biodiversity and global climate regulations.

Hydrothermal vents act as a sink, sequestering carbon and methane. The mineral-rich vents and their surrounds are also home to animals and organisms including crustaceans, tubeworms, clams, slugs, anemones and fish.

“It is becoming increasingly clear that deep-sea mining poses a grave threat to these vital seabed functions,” the paper says. “Extraction methods would involve the operation of large, remote vehicles on the seafloor to chemically leach or physically cut crust from substrate and/or use highly pressurised water to strip the crust.

“All of these methods would produce large sediment plumes and involve the discharge of waste and tailings back into the ocean, significantly disturbing seafloor environments.”

The Harvard Environmental Law Review article says the exploratory phase of deep-sea mining has already adversely affected Indigenous people in the Pacific. In Tonga, large mining prospecting vessels have disturbed traditional fishing grounds, and in PNG villagers bordering the exploration site in the Bismarck sea have reported high incidence of dead fish washed ashore.

The paper argues for governments globally to reform the international seabed regime to reflect modern developments in law and science, and to protect potentially vulnerable communities.

“They should recognise the risks of operating in an unknown environment, fully embrace the precautionary approach, and protect and conserve the ocean for the benefit of current and future generations,” it says.

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NZ seabed iron sand mining decision reserved

Opponents of seabed iron sand mining gathered more than 6000 signatures on a petition calling for a moratorium on seabed mining. (File photo: Monique Ford)

Stuff | April 19 2018

The finely balanced decision to consent to seabed mining of iron sand might have swung the other way if the decision makers had properly considered some factors, a lawyer says.

Eleven parties have appealed against the consents that were granted last August to Trans-Tasman Resources Ltd.

The appeal hearing in the High Court at Wellington wrapped up on Thursday with Justice Peter Churchman reserving his decision.

The 66 square kilometres off the South Taranaki coast (shown in dark green) where Trans Tasman Resources has applied to mine iron ore.

The final speaker was Davey Salmon, a lawyer for Greenpeace and Kiwis Against Seabed Mining, who said the consent decision had been as finally balanced as it was possible to be.

The Environmental Protection Authority had appointed a four-person decision making committee.

When the committee was deadlocked the chairman had the deciding vote, so even though members of the committee were split two against two, the outcome was that the consents were granted.

Salmon said the committee did not have enough information on which to make its decision, and did not give proper weight to issues that counted against allowing seabed mining.

The committee chairman had a legal obligation to exercise the casting vote favouring caution, and exercise caution where information was lacking, he said.

Trans-Tasman Resources’ lawyer, Justin Smith, QC, said it was unlikely the chairman was meant to change his vote because another committee member disagreed with him.

Even if the judge found against Trans-Tasman Resources on one or more points, it did not mean the decision had to be quashed, Smith said. He asked for a further hearing to discuss the consequences, if the judge intended to allow the appeal.

The lawyer for Māori and fishing interests, Francis Cooke, QC, said the two members who granted the consents had not grappled with a key problem.

The seabed that was to be mined was in the exclusive economic zone off the south Taranaki coast, up to the boundary of the coastal marine area, closer to shore, which came under resource management rules.

Mining would create a significant sediment plume that would spread into the coastal marine area where it was prohibited, Cooke said.

Trans-Tasman Resources said the marine consent and marine discharge consent it was granted were enough to allow mining to proceed, but the opponents said resource consent was also needed.

Regardless of that issue, it was already signalled that whichever way the judge decided, the outcome was likely to be appealed.

The committee granted the 35-year consents subject to conditions, including that two years of monitoring had to take place before Trans-Tasman Resources was allowed to begin mining up to 50 million tonnes of seabed material a year to extract iron ore for export.

A remote-controlled dredge would vacuum sand from the sea bed in depths between about 20 metres and 42m, to a processing ship. The dredging was planned in an area 22 kilometres to 36km offshore from Patea.

It was planned that about 90 per cent of the material would be returned to the sea. Opponents said the noise and sediment plume would cause fish to avoid the area, and would result in long term, if not permanent, damage to the environment and cultural concerns of Māori.

The company said the area was already intensively fished, had gas and oil installations, and was a rugged environment subject to naturally occurring sediment flows from rivers.

Taranaki iwi Ngāti Ruanui, and Trustees of Te Kaahui o Rauru, along with Greenpeace, Kiwis Against Seabed Mining, the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society, the Taranaki-Whanganui Conservation Board, Cloudy Bay Clams, the Federation of Commercial Fishermen, Southern Inshore Fisheries Management Company, Talleys Group, and Te Ohu Kai Moana Trustee Ltd, appealed against the consents.

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Harvard Environmental Law Review Calls For Precautionary Approach to Seabed Mining

Harvard Environmental Law Review Calls For Precautionary New Legal Standards

Post Courier | April 17, 2018

Today, the Harvard Environmental Law Review published an article entitled, “Broadening Common Heritage: Addressing Gaps in the Deep Sea Mining Regulatory Regime.” The article provides a new perspective on the incipient global industry of seabed mining, heralded as the next extractive frontier despite growing concerns and opposition from civil society, scientific experts, and indigenous groups worldwide.

“Deep sea mining has been framed by proponents as a lucrative mineral windfall with minimal impacts,” says author Julie Hunter, attorney and Clinic Fellow at the University of British Columbia. “This narrative entirely disregards recent scientific information linking the deep seabed with major climate regulation and biodiversity functions. Destroying these ecosystems before more can be learned about them not only risks major health and fisheries impacts – it could completely upend global climate change efforts.”

The article provides a brief overview of the so-called ‘gold-rush’ for seabed minerals, in which countries and companies have scrambled to buy up licenses for seabed exploration covering millions of square kilometers of ocean, before environmental and regulatory standards have even been drafted. With Japan becoming the first country to successfully mine its deep seabed in 2017, and Canadian company Nautilus Minerals scheduled to begin the world’s first commercial operation in Papua New Guinea’s waters in 2019, deep sea mining is rapidly becoming a reality.

However, the risks of operating in an unknown environment less documented than Mars are starting to become apparent. In 2016, a consortium of scientists and oceanographers released a study detailing the critical carbon sequestration functions of deep sea hydrothermal vents and methane seeps. Combined with other studies establishing irreversible impacts from seabed mining, these findings trigger a body of protective environmental and human rights law, including the precautionary principle and the need to obtain free, prior, and informed consent from indigenous and other affected peoples.

“Pacific Islanders have already suffered negative consequences as a result of mere exploratory mining in the region,” says author Julian Aguon, attorney and founder of Blue Ocean Law—a law firm that works throughout the Pacific region to defend and advance the rights of colonized and indigenous peoples. “Our work has documented impacts to fisheries and traditional customs in coastal communities in Papua New Guinea, Tonga and elsewhere, and the disconcerting absence of true and meaningful consultation with affected groups.”

Other acknowledged impacts of deep sea mining include contamination of the water column and fisheries by tailings and heavy metals, species extinction, coral reef acidification, carbon emissions from onshore mineral processing, and increased risk of oil spills and surface accidents, among others.

Given the unique biodiversity, genetic, and biomedical properties of deep sea ecosystems, not to mention their potentially critical role in climate regulation, the so-called “common heritage” of the seabed extends far beyond the value of its minerals. “It would be tragically ironic if, in our rush to obtain minerals for use in green tech and renewable energies, we end up bulldozing the most important climate regulator of our planet,” says Hunter. “That possibility alone merits a cautious approach.”

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Taranaki iron sand seabed mining consent reduced Māori interest to lip service, court told

Ngati Ruanui iwi went to Parliament to voice its protest against the Trans-Tasman Resources’ plans to mine iron sand off the Taranaki coast. (File photo: Monique Ford)

Stuff | April 16 2018

Māori interests were not properly considered in the decision to allow iron sand seabed mining off Taranaki, a court has been told.

They went to the High Court at Wellington on Monday seeking to overturn environmental permission for the project.

A lawyer for Māori and fishing interests, Francis Cooke, QC, said as far as they were aware this was a world first for deep sea iron sand mining to be allowed to be undertaken.

Ngati Ruanui protested against Trans-Tasman Resources’ bid for marine consent to mine the seabed for iron sand. More than 6000 people signed the petition calling for a moratorium on seabed mining. (File photo: Monique Ford)

The permission, though, had split the Environmental Protection Authority decision making committee, and the outcome depended on the chairman’s vote.

Cooke said the majority decision of the committee had reduced to an “interpretive gloss” the strongly-worded direction to take into account the interests of Māori, and give effect to the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi.

Instead the interests of Māori could be said to be reduced to lip service, he said.

The highest concentration of suspended sediment would occur in coastal marine area offshore from the Ngāti Ruanui district, and fish were expected to avoid the area, with severe effect on seabed life within 2km of the operation, and moderate effects up to 15km of the mining area.

Cooke said an earlier decision for the same activity, the same parties, in the same area had been declined, on different evidence. One of the later committee’s alleged errors was not taking into account the first decision to decline the application.

Even the committee that gave consent described some of the effects as perhaps being catastrophic from Trans-Tasman Resources’ mining, Cooke said.

The company has allegedly spent about $80 million preparing for the mining.

The decision making committee said that when extraction finally ended the effects would be long term, but not permanent.

Cooke said the committee appeared to have applied a standard that allowed the environment to be harmed provided it ultimately recovered.

It had misunderstood, and misapplied the law, he said. The committee never identified the standard against which it judged the environmental effect.

At the start of Monday’s hearing some members of the public could not find seats in the crowded courtroom and had to listen to proceedings via a link to a court foyer.

In August, the authority’s committee granted Trans-Tasman Resources 35-year marine and discharge consents to annually mine up to 50 million tonnes of iron sand in the South Taranaki Bight.

A remote-controlled dredge will vacuum sand from the sea bed between depths of 20 metres and 42m, at a rate of 8000 tonnes an hour, to a processing ship. The dredging is earmarked in an area 22 kilometres to 36km off the coastline from Patea.

The decision committee said the company proposed extracting seabed material and processing it on a vessel. Approximately 10 per cent of the material would be processed into iron ore concentrate and the rest would be discharged to the seabed. It was expected much of the concentrate would be sent to China for steel making.

Taranaki iwi, Greenpeace, Kiwis Against Seabed Mining, the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society, the Taranaki-Whanganui Conservation Board, Cloudy Bay Clams, the Federation of Commercial Fishermen, Southern Inshore Fisheries Management Company, Talleys Group, Te Ohu Kai Moana Trustee Ltd, and Trustees of Te Kaahui o Rauru, have appealed against the authority’s approval.

Trans-Tasman Resources is supporting the committee’s decision.

The hearing is expected to take about a week.

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Mining interests ‘stalling’ SA plans to protect more of the ocean

Ocean scientists say Marine Protected Areas not only protect fish from over-exploitation, but can also help to slow the effects of climate change. Photo: Steve Benjamin

A global ocean protection group has expressed concern that plans to fast-track the expansion of Marine Protected Areas off the South African coast appear to have stalled. 

Tony Carnie |  Daily Maverick | 16 April 2018

Plans to enlarge South Africa’s protected ocean reserve network have come to a halt, allegedly due to pressure from the oil, gas and extractive mining sector.

This is the claim from Ocean Unite, a Washington DC based global ocean protection group headed by former University of Cape Town international environmental law graduate Karen Sack.

Sack, co-author of a 2013 scientific report which urged the United Nations to establish a new Department for Oceans and a new Interpol-style navy to police the high seas, has voiced disappointment that plans to fast-track the expansion of Marine Protected Areas(MPAs) off the South African coast appear to have stalled.

Sack said only 0.4% of the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) currently enjoyed legal protection. In 2014 the government had announced plans to expand this area of protected seas to 5% by 2016, increasing to a total of 10% by 2020.

Unfortunately, this process has stalled with stakeholders raising concerns that this hiatus is owing to undue influence from the extractive mining sector which is seen as one of the main drivers for unlocking South Africa’s Ocean Economy”.

Sack did not identify any mining companies by name, but said it was significant that the Department of Energy had placed 98% of South Africa’s EEZ under acreage lease for oil and gas exploration or production rights, and there was also talk of new mining opportunities for phosphate extraction and other seabed minerals.

Encouragingly, the drive to achieve a 10% (and more) MPA target appears well supported at the most senior levels in Department of Environmental Affairs and aligns with South Africa’s National Development Plan outcomes and international commitments at the United Nations. South Africa has recently assumed the role of Chair of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) and there is a timely opportunity for South Africa to lead the way to establishing MPA expansion as a key blue economy ocean governance goal within the African region.

Marine parks are about more than just a haven for the species that live in them. These national parks at sea are critical climate change fighting tools and help support food security. The ocean is a massive carbon sink and science is now demonstrating that marine reserves slow the effects of climate change, rebuild biodiversity, and help build resilience. Governments can affirm their international commitments to combating climate change, securing jobs and food through the creation of marine reserves,” Sack said in a statement.

The Department of Energy has not responded to requests for comment on Sack’s claims about “undue influence” from mining interests.

However, former Ezemvelo KZN Wldlife senior marine scientist Dr Jean Harris said South African marine protection strategy currently ranked poorly compared to other nations.

When South Africa’s current Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) were surveyed alongside 39 developed countries they ranked 34th out of 40, with 0.4% current marine protection, compared to an average of 11.2% for the other countries. When South Africa was surveyed together with 129 developing countries it ranked 90th out of 130 – an average of 5.8% compared to South Africa’s measly 0.4%,” said Dr Harris, who now heads the WildOceans programme of the Wildlands Conservation Trust.

She added that “0.4% is hopelessly inadequate to maintain sustainable benefits in a growing ocean economy. A minimum target agreed to as a global standard is 10% marine protection, with South Africa committing to achieving this by 2020.

As an interim step, the Department of Environmental Affairs published intention to gazette 22 new/expanded MPAs to achieve a 5% target. This will also see benefits to fisheries, including protection of nursery and spawning areas, resource recovery and the management of essential fish habitat.”

By contrast, several other developing nations had announced much more ambitious MPA targets over the past year.

For example, she said, Brazil announced plans in March to create four new MPAs covering an area of more than 900,000 km2 – larger than France, England, Belgium, Netherlands and Switzerland combined.

In 2017, Mexico announced it would protect nearly 92,000 km2 of the ocean from fishing and resource extraction, while Chile had announced plans to protect over 1 million km2 of Chilean waters – more than 40% of its seas.

This Latin American ocean protection leadership follows clear science that shows the importance of these national parks at sea to build resilience as well as revitalise the abundance and diversity of marine fish stocks.”

Closer to home, Harris said the Seychelles had also announced plans to protect 210,000 km2 of ocean and set a further goal of setting aside 16% of its waters for marine protection.

South Africa currently has a network of 24 coastal MPAs, covering only 0.4% of the continental EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone), and one sub-Antarctic MPA (Marion/Prince Edward Islands).

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Kiwis Against Seabed Mining promises to take case to Supreme Court if necessary

KASM chairwoman Cindy Baxter says the previous government’s support for the iron sands project was “very clear’ to the Environmental Protection Agency. Photo: Pullar-Strecker

Tom Pullar-Strecker | Stuff | April 16 2018

One of the lobby groups fighting a decision to approve iron sands mining off the Taranaki coast says it is prepared to take the case all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in August approved an application by miner Trans Tasman Resources (TTR) to dredge a billion tonnes of iron sands from the South Taranaki Bight, in a split decision that swung on committee chairman Alick Shaw’s casting vote.

A total of 11 groups with environmental, fishing and Maori interests are appealing the decision at the High Court in Wellington. They are concerned about issues such as the plume from waste material that will be returned to the seabed.

Some have also warned the project would set a precedent for seabed mining elsewhere in New Zealand waters and beyond. 

Cindy Baxter, chairwoman of Kiwis Against Seabed Mining (KASM) – speaking outside the High Court before proceedings began –  said it was very clear the former National government supported the mining venture. 

She believed that had not been lost on the EPA, which is an independent body.

“The Government changed the legislation to make it easier for it to get through and Callaghan Innovation suddenly gave TTR a big grant when it wasn’t even a New Zealand company,” she said.

The 66 square kilometres off the South Taranaki coast (shown in dark green) where Trans Tasman Resources has applied to mine iron ore.

“This is a company that brought 35 per cent of its shares across from Holland three weeks before its application so it could claim it was a Kiwi company.”

Baxter said she couldn’t say whether the EPA was influenced by the former government’s support for the venture. But “it certainly got that message” and the process it had gone through to approve the mining application was flawed, she said.

Even so, two of the commissioners still voted to reject the mining application, issuing a “strongly dissenting opinion”, she noted.

Baxter said she believed the new government was trying to be “hands off” and was waiting for the outcome of the court challenge.

“I think they are letting the legal process go through. They don’t really want to talk to us about it at the moment – although certainly the Green Party does.”   

Baxter said KASM was prepared to take the court challenge as far as it needed to.

“If we have to, we will take it to the Supreme Court. This is a precedent-setting case. 

“It is the first seabed mining application that has been approved in New Zealand and it would open the flood gates for others around the country.” 

Opponents of the Taranaki iron sands project gather outside the High Court. Photo: Pullar-Strecker

TTR has been contacted for comment. It has previously said the Taranaki Iron Sands project would be “a sustainable and world leading development” that would have little environmental effect and directly employ 463 people, generating about $7 million of royalties for the Crown.

Baxter said seabed mining was basically new internationally, though diamond giant De Beers has vacuumed diamonds from 6000 square kilometres of sea floor off the coast of Namibia.

There are proposals to mine a large area about 500 miles south-east of Hawaii called the Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone which Japanese scientists are reported to estimate contains up to 100 billion metric tons of rare-earth deposits.

Southern Cross Cable, which has surveyed a route for a new internet cable between New Zealand, Australia and the United States, has been re-surveying its route to avoid that mining zone.

Greenpeace campaigner Michael Smith said the South Taranaki Bight was a “vital ecosystem” that was home to endangered blue whales and Maui dolphins.

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