Putting environmental compliance at the core

The quarrying industry’s focus on the environment and Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) issues in general, has grown in recent years.
The quarrying industry’s focus on the environment and Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) issues in general, has grown in recent years.

The environmental impact of quarrying activities and opencast mining operations at large cannot be underestimated. While quarrying is a vital industry which is critical to the economy of every country, it can be damaging to the environment. Traditionally, the industry has sometimes been blamed for paying lip service to environmental compliance.

However, the focus on the environment and Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) issues in general, has grown in recent years and it is now a priority for quarrying companies as they become even more conscious of the impact on the long-term sustainability of companies.

In my recent conversation with ASPASA director Letisha van den Berg, she noted that under her leadership, the association will further cast the spotlight on environmental compliance, which in her view will grow in importance to even surpass safety in the near future. If findings and observations from ASPASA’s 2022 Environmental audit are anything to go by, the industry is truly putting the environment at the core of its activities.

As you will see in the March-April edition of Quarrying Africa, a total of 66 audits were conducted last year, with some 23 Showplace scores (95% and above), a true indicator that the level of compliance presented by local operations is exceptional.

On of the key talking points from the 2022 audit was the need for improving waste management at quarries. It is estimated that 175-million tonnes (t) of quarrying waste are produced each year, and although a portion of this waste may be utilised on site, such as for excavation pit refill or berm construction, it is often difficult to find meaningful use for all waste stone and fines produce. Coupling this with the industry’s other waste streams, such as wastewater sludge and general site trash, it is essential that all operations in the natural stone industry develop and abide by a waste management plan.

Through implementation of a proactive waste management strategy, unnecessary fines, occupational exposures and environmental degradation may be avoided. Additionally, an opportunity exists for companies to distinguish themselves as socially responsible and environmentally considerate operations.

Decreasing the amount of material lost during the quarrying and crushing processes increases efficiency and the quantity of profitable product. In effect, the company sees a greater return for every tonne of product sold. In addition, comprehensive, proactive waste management practices will result in a reputation for social responsibility and greater community acceptance of the quarrying operation.

Waste from quarry operations can be unsafe and environmentally detrimental. Scrap stone can create dangerous working conditions as well as an undesirable visual impact if piles are stacked carelessly or not well organised. Runoff from the scrap mounds can cause erosion problems, and fines introduced into natural waterways can suffocate local ecosystems.

We cannot deny the growing focus on ESG in the extractive industry. It is, however, still a concept that fits into the global environmental plan, however, not everything has yet been legislated, but one can see that it’s coming.

As regulators and communities continue to demand that extractive industries place more emphasis on environmental issues, this might be the perfect time for quarries to start taking active steps on their environmental protection agenda.

The lack of environmental compliance can have dire consequences for operations. Remember, it is one of the key aspects that can lead to the revoking of a mining licence. In my view, it is as important as safety management, but at present it is not a concept well understood by all.








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