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How are Virgin Metals Mined? (And Why Recycling Scrap Metal is Better)

By Sally O'Brien

One of the many reasons to sell scrap metal at a trusted metal recycler like Metal Men Recycling is the environmental benefits of recycling scrap metal over mining virgin ore. In Australia, there are currently over 400 mines in operation with two predominant processes of mining: underground mines and open pit mines. These processes both have environmental consequences, so improving the lifetime of any unwanted metal is one of the many ways scrap metal recycling benefits the environment.

Underground mines

When imagining a mine, many may picture the traditional, deep tunnel of underground mining. This requires a shaft or decline to be excavated into the ground, sometimes kilometres deep, for metalliferous and coal collection. This method is used to extract raw ore from deep below the surface, creating as little waste as possible, before transporting it for processing into useful metal materials. Although technology has improved since the older mining method of room and pillar mining, underground mining still has many associated dangers.

The deep tunnels must allow safe passage for workers and heavy machinery to transport waste ore and collected minerals while also providing ventilation, electricity, lighting and resources. Underground mines must also consider the health and safety of workers including hearing protection, respiratory protection from dust, safe machinery operation and structural protection against the risk of collapse.

There are many different methods of underground mining in Australia depending on ore depth and the structural integrity of the surrounds. Underground mining often involves drilling beneath or beside the ore, blasting the ore and collecting the raw ore and waste material for transport. Some of the underground mining techniques used in Australia include:

  • Sub level caving: This method involves drilling directly into the ore and drilling horizontal sub levels, blasting each level at a time and excavating the demolished ore. 
  • Block caving: A large-scale metalliferous mining method, block caving involves creating an artificial cavern below an ore body and allowing it to collapse under its own weight. 
  • Cut and fill mining: This method can be quite costly due to the refilling process. Cut and fill mining involves cutting and excavating the ore with controlled detonations before filling the voids with waste rock or cement.

Surface mining 

Open pit mines are more common when a high concentration of minerals or ores are located close to the surface. This mining method involves drilling a large pit and blasting to remove the ore for processing. For surface mining, heavy machinery is necessary to remove the waste rock material so that the resource can be mined.

Open pit or open cut mining is generally considered cheaper and more cost-effective than traditional shaft mining as it requires fewer workers and can extract more ore. Open pit mines are also safer than shaft mines as there is no risk of cave-ins and they do not require the utility piping of underground operations.

The main disadvantages of open pit mining include the environmental damage caused by exhausting finite reserves and the associated costs of backfilling and restoring the pits. By creating the large, open pit the area is stripped of vegetation which damages the site’s natural ecosystem. After the open pit mine has been exhausted, further work is required to begin rehabilitating the area to minimise additional environmental damage and reduce the risk of landslides and rockslides if the destabilised site is left unattended.

This requires fencing off the land to prevent access for a period and filling the put with waste to ensure the land is safe for future use. Although this lessens the environmental impact of disrupting the pristine landscape, this lengthy process of blasting and hauling away the minerals and ore before refilling the pit uses an intensive amount of energy and electricity. This produces carbon emissions which causes air pollution and contributes to global warming.

Why is selling scrap metal more economical? 

Recycling scrap metal helps the environment while saving you money and reducing waste around the house or business. By selling scrap metal and contributing to the process of recycling and repurposing brass, tin, copper or aluminium, you conserve the energy needed to mine, refine and transport virgin metals and lessen the greenhouse gases produced during this lengthy process.

Many metals can be recycled and used again indefinitely. A more sustainable choice, increasing the rates of metal recycling has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 300-500 million tons allowing scrap metal to have a positive effect on air pollution. Additionally, recycling scrap iron around the home avoids metals from ending up in landfills and waste after the costly mining process. By selling scrap metal to trusted recyclers, you improve the longevity of the material and take steps towards making the mining process more economical and environmentally friendly.

Are you looking to sell scrap metal in Melbourne?

If you’d like to sell scrap metal in your home or business, consider the expert team at Metal Men Recycling in Melbourne. With our streamlined 24-hour pick-up service, we offer the best prices on the market for scrap metals including aluminium, copper, stainless steel and brass. Our reliable team is ready to cater to your metal recycling needs and recycle your unwanted waste with a free bin service for your scrap metal drop-offs.

Whether you’re looking to sell scrap metal or would just like to learn more about the process and environmental benefits of metal recycling, give us a call on 03 5941 6677 or fill out our online contact form.

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