Mining the technosphere

Waste repositories can be considered the ore deposits of the ‘anthropocene’. Having historically disposed of vast quantities of industrial, municipal, metallurgical and mining waste into the ground, societies have put into geological storage an enormous amount of resources in a range of materials of value such as metals and energy (in the form of biomass and polymers). Therefore, instead of considering these waste repositories to be a legacy waste issue and a long-term liability, a paradigm shift is required to view these installations as ’resource hubs‘ for future recovery. This has to some extent been recognised with commensurate but small scale landfill mining occurring internationally, and the concept of mining materials from the ‘technosphere’ (rather than the lithosphere) is gaining ground.

Following the definition of Johansson et al. (2012), the ‘technosphere’ is defined as material stocks established by human agency, which originates from technological processes, in contrast to stocks in the lithosphere established by slow, primary geological processes.

Three major technospheric stocks have been defined:

  • Mine waste (e.g. mine tailings)
  • Industrial waste (e.g. flyash)
  • Municipal solid waste

INSPIRE seeks to develop new in situ technologies to harness such waste for economic gain and environmental protection.

Johansson et al. (2012), “An integrated review of concepts and initiatives for mining the technosphere: towards a new taxonomy”. J Clean Prod 55.

Comments are closed.