Lynas Corporation states that it is playing a part in reducing carbon emissions by mining and processing rare earths. But at what cost? At the cost of workers’ and local communities lives? At the cost of the environment for future generations?
We know that human induced climate change is a fact. Solutions to cut carbon emissions include energy efficiency, hybrid cars and renewable technologies like wind power which all need rare earths. But it is a dangerous path we are on when we continue with the ‘business as usual’ moto – instead we must continue to challenge the influence of governments and corporations that do not take people’s needs into account by protecting human rights and the environment for future generations.
One partial solution to the negative impacts of rare earth mining and processing would be to reduce consumption and increase the reuse and recycling rates of rare earth elements. Currently the recycling rate for most rare earth metals is around 1% or less. Japan is exploring increased recycling of rare earths from electronic waste. If the price of the final materials included the true social and environmental costs of rare earth mining, the incentive to recycle and dig up less would increase.
We must be concerned not only with how our use of rare earths contributes to their depletion, but also how pollution from the production, processing and use of rare earths should be considered in the context of our use – particularly because rare earths are recyclable.