Oceans, Pigs & Glory Hole Mining

Trash in the ocean is getting more coverage this year. See today's NYTimes article in the science section (which I discovered, ironically, while following a different linked headline "Pigs Prove to be Smart, if not Vain").

".... researchers have found that pigs are brilliant at remembering where food stores are cached and how big each stash is relative to the rest. They’ve shown that Pig A can almost instantly learn to follow Pig B when the second pig shows signs of knowing where good food is stored, and that Pig B will try to deceive the pursuing pig and throw it off the trail so that Pig B can hog its food in peace."

This is actually a lot like Western, and now World, natural resources policy. Say what you want about mining and forestry companies, they are incredibly intelligent engineering-based companies which, at a certain level, act merely as the Top Chef, serving a society which really doesn't care what it eats so long as it tastes good ("More foie gras, anyone?").

Copper and gold mining companies, like Newmont, are having record years. Whatever society wants - coltan for a cell phone, copper for a TV, silver for ROHS compliant ("lead free") solder, they will get it.

While I have written about the tremendous and largely unheralded costs of mining, in comparison to the press over "recycling residue", and "trash", I don't really mean it as an insult to the mining companies. Just look at papers like this one (diagram: "Glory Hole Mining") ...

by Dr. Willard Lacy

... and you see that environmentalists have to pick up their game when debating engineers from the mining college.

While the mineral deposit engineers are probably not going to celebrate the impending reform of the 1872 Mining Law, they are going to play a wicked smart hand with whatever cards they are dealt. The big question is whether mining reform would drive them to less regulated countries (I would argue that Superfund and pollution laws have already served that purpose and that royalties on mined material are easier to calculate and factor into "exploitable find" capitalization than pollution abatement). What it definitely does do, is causes these firms to look more closely at recycling.

From the Lacy paper, see the way mining engineers think. I think I could write a blog about almost every sentence in the paper and shed light on recycling.


Expenditures for mineral exploration and development are wasted unless secure tenure on surface and mineral rights is obtained on all parcels vital and necessary for a mineral project.

Mineral land ownership in the United States resides with the Federal Government (FEDERAL LANDS), the State Governments (STATE LANDS) or with private individuals and business entities (PRIVATE LANDS)

When recycling giants like Sims swap assets with mining companies like Xstrata (formerly Noranda), engineers are doing calculations that look at a gram-per-kilo yield from scrap the same way they would analyze a vein of ore.

Well established is the fact that electronics have a much higher yield per kilo than virgin mines, the question is whether there is an exploitable quantity. You know what you own with a mining stake (actually, hopefully you know, it is one of the open questions when you mine in a developing country). When you invest in a recycling venture, you don't own the stream of "ewaste" or scrap material you intend to recycle.

In about 35 years, the USGS.gov estimates that landfills themselves will be among the richest and most exploitable deposits of metals like copper and aluminum, and landfilling will prove not to have been "disposal" so much as "in ground storage". What we in the recycling field are betting on is that between now (mining) and then (landfill mining), that recovery of materials before they are buried or burned will become increasingly lucrative. It is not theoretical, actually, it can be studied from historical records of wartime demand (when scrap metal is 'command and controlled' to get it to military use) or even hot-economy peacetime demand (when countries like Philippines "ban" the export of scrap steel).

Predictions: Whenever the US Bureau of Land Management is staffed by reform-friendly people (as opposed to the Norton-Scarlett-Abrahmoff clique), or reform of the General Mining Act of 1872 is up for debate and possible passage in the US House of Representatives, those expert miners will, like the intelligent pigs in the NYTimes article, figure out where the economically exploitable resources are. And they will invest in recycling, like Noranda did when Canada reformed its mineral policy in the late 1990s. Not because they are pigs, but because they are smart like pigs. They are the Top Chef to the society of pigs.

Almost finally, references to mining and mineral policy allow you to post JPGs titled "Glory Hole Mining Method" (see pencil diagram). This reference by itself could improve internet ranking, but could also cause your blog to be filtered by parental controls.

And now, another tribute in the recurring theme of musical references to recycling and e-waste policy, gracias a George Harrison.

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