Sustainability concerns associated with mineral resources focus on metal reserves and the environmental dimension of sustainability. Recent progress in empirical studies proves that quantification of flows and stocks of materials in various spatial levels is methodologically feasible. Knowledge of various negative environmental impacts associated with the life cycle of metals is now extensive. Mining, beneficiation, and smelting ofmetals are known to be dirty processes. However, as yet there is no widely agreed single index to quantify the environmental impacts associated with life cycle of metals.
To ensure the sustainability of mineral resources use, it is not sufficient to know the size of reserves and reserve base relative to current production and consumption levels. We must, in addition, assess carefully the various negative impacts that may result from a growing use of lower grade mineral ores. Recent progress in material/substance flow studies should enable us to forecast future demand of minerals by developing economies more precisely. In-use stock accounting studies should also shed light on the possibility of alternative supply scenarios for the future. Nevertheless, the linkages between quantitative stock and flow studies and the multiple criteria considerations of economic, social, and environmental sustainability remain to be explicated. Further interdisciplinary studies are needed to fill these gaps so that scenarios of metal futures can be robust and comprehensive.
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