The mining industry covers vital economic and social needs, but, by its nature, it also causes changes to the environment of the areas where the deposits of mineral raw materials are located.
However, their impact is actually mostly visual, due to the creation of new roads, the existence of excavations, etc., as well as to the transformation of the landscape mostly due to the deposition of gangue minerals.
The changes in the natural landscape and the ecosystems and the way they are understood by the general public is a great challenge in order to ensure the acceptance of the mining industry by the local communities.
For the wider mining activity, and more particularly for the members of the Greek Mining Enterprises Association (SME), the rational environmental management, apart from an important regulating responsibility, consists a field of innovation and responsible operation.
Regarding the restoration of the landscape, the goal is to create such conditions, after the completion of the mining, that they will allow the approximate reinstallation of the pre-existing plant and animal life in the near or distant future or/and the creation of the appropriate conditions that will allow for new desirable uses in the area. The regulating framework that is applied in Greece stems from the specification and adaptation of the guidelines at a European level and focuses on prevention, on the incorporation of the restoration of the landscape in the plan of the project, as well as on ensuring the implementation of the environmental actions that occur from the project’s licensing.
Our members, having adopted since 2006 the “Code of Principles for Sustainable Development” of the Association, have implemented projects and actions that go further than the requirements of the law. Besides, the responsible environmental management consists a critical factor regarding the viability of mining activities as well as a field of development of innovative actions and practices. Some typical examples of the actions of our members are:
- The operation of plant nurseries, which, apart from the production and preparation of seeds and plants that are suitable for the restoration of the landscape, operate as “laboratories” for the research of the appropriate scientific methods for the development of expertise regarding the reproduction of local and rare plants.
- The artificial aging of rocks in areas of steep excavations in collaboration with the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.
- The transformation of bauxite residues into exploitable raw materials and products for the production of cast iron and rockwool.
The members of the Society, due to the application of Law 998/1979 that has established the restoration of forest areas affected by mining activities, have fully restored 62,000,000 square meters until today. From 2007 till today, almost 3,000,000 seedlings and bushes have been planted. In the same time period, approximately 80 million Euros have been spent for the restoration of the landscape and the maintenance of the restored areas.
Apart from the above, that consist actions of a traditional type, some fields of environmental management where the members of the Society are active and innovate are the following:
- Energy saving: minimization of energy use (through the replacement with other energy forms, for example natural drying)
- Waste management: reduction and management of gangue, transformation into exploitable products
- Optimal water management: water saving, water collection and use of rainwater
- Reuse/new uses of land: transformation of a depleted underground bauxite exploitation mine gallery to a visitable, educational mining park, transformation of an old perlite mine to a vineyard, construction of a photovoltaic park and a forestry park in former lignite centers, landscaping of agricultural areas on depleted lignite mines and their concession to farmers
Our Association, that has 30 members and includes the largest companies in the mining industry of the country, publishes every year the “Sustainable Development Indices” of its activities. The indices that regard the natural environment (energy consumption, water resources management, waste management and management of hazardous materials) as well as the ones that regard the employees and the society (employment, training of employees, health and safety performance, open events, visits, training of students, allocated resources, etc.) depict the performance of the responsible operation of our member-companies.
However, despite the actions of the companies of the sector, the degree of mistrust regarding the compliance with the environmental regulations and more generally the correct operation of the institutional bodies is quite high, as can be deduced from the vigorous reactions to mining and mineral processing investment plans by some parts of the society.
By the strengthening of the authorities that control the environmental performance and the increased transparency of the operation of the system of approval and control of the environmental conditions, it is expected that the trust of the citizens regarding the responsible operation of the mining industry is improved and its unhindered development is ensured for the benefit of our regional and national economy.
[SOURCE: EFIMERIDA TON SYNTAKTON, 9/8/2016, by Athanassios Kefalas, president of the Greek Mining Enterprises Association]