Resource Depletion as an Impact Category

Resource depletion is one the central issues in the sustainability of mineral resources. Depletion is often included as an impact category of life cycle assessment, whereas resource use is sometimes classified merely as an item in the economic axis in a set of sustainability indicators (e.g., UNDPCSD 1996). There are different views on the availability of nonrenewable resources in Earth's crust. A recent exchange of views on copper availability (Gordon et al. 2006; Tilton and Lagos 2007; Gordon et al. 2007) clarified that there are additional factors involved besides physical abundance: (a) potential constraints on traditional mining as a consequence of energy and water availability, (b) potential constraints on international trade, (c) substitution for virgin ore extraction by enhanced recycling and reuse, (d) growth in demand, and (e) technology change.

In life cycle impact assessments, a rather simple factor P/R (production/reserve ratio) is often used to characterize the scarcity of mineral resources. This method does not, however, sufficiently capture the issues at stake.

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