The circular economy is taking off. In turn, its potential to threaten the existing mining industry is also becoming more prominent.
Yet mining and circularity don’t have to be enemies. Sustainable recycling and reusing can, in fact, integrate with the mining industry. This will replace traditional mining and create a more digitized and sustainable mining sector that reuses and recycles its own products.
What is the circular economy?
The circular economy refers to the recycling and reusing of products that are at the end of their useful life, to help eliminate waste. At a basic level, it looks something like this:
In mining, this means metals in objects such as smartphones, TVs, cars and jewellery:
This metal is recycled back into the economy and prevents prolonged harmful mining practices. This also accounts for future metals demand when resources will be significantly sparser, if not obsolete.
Right now, this model of reusing and recycling may seem optional. In the near future, it will become a necessity as our Earth’s resources dwindle.
Does this pose a serious threat to mining?
Recycling and reusing will change the way we mine – that much is unquestionable. However, will it be for the better or for the worse?
Many manufacturing and mining companies are already doing their part in the circular economy. In reality, this isn’t bringing them loss – it’s bringing in more profit. ICMM names three of their member companies in Japan as examples of companies that are reusing and recycling: Mitsubishi Materials, JX Nippon Mining & Metals, and Sumitomo Metal Mining.
Mining companies can fundamentally benefit financially from the recycling and selling of these materials. In turn, this circular model helps the environment. There are so many commodities being produced worldwide that the profile margin for recycling and reuse is huge.
Will it disrupt mining?
The circular economy will significantly impact the mining sector. That is: the traditional mining sector. Mining is already undergoing digital and social transformation. Circular economy or not, this will continue, and it will eventually give way to a digitized, sustainable mining sector that inherently brings profit to the mining companies. Certain metals, such as steel and aluminium, may be recycled infinitely, which provides mining companies with an ideal opportunity.
Technologies such as blockchain, artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things will also be ideal for centralising and managing a sustainable, circular economy.