For centuries mankind has been using the resources of the Earth as if they are limitless. However, in recent decades, it has become ever increasingly evident that the resources that were once thought to be limitless are slowly depleting to the point that in a couple decades several of the Earth's resources will be completely depleted at the current rate of usage. This is were the idea of correcting or changing processes that are not responsible use of the Earth's resources comes into play. Rectifying Historically Unsustainable Practices is taking practices and processes that society has used in the past that are not sustainable and are bad for the environment and changing them so that they are sustainable and have a lesser impact on the environment.

Ways of Improvement

Since each historically unsustainable practice is different from the another, making the processes sustainable looks different in each application. Two major areas that have been know for being unsustainable in history and have been playing a huge role in were are society is going are in collection of materials and water usage.

Collection of Materials - Surface Mining


Surface Mining is the form of mining that removes the layer of soil that covers the coal. This process is usually much cheaper than traditional underground mines because it only involves excavation and more material is able to be retrieved. It is also much safer because the workers are not underground with only a few ways to escape. There are four main types of surface mining.
  • Strip Mining - the removal of layers of soil over a long strip of land to reach a coal seam
  • Open-Pit Mining - the removal or rocks from a pit or borrow
  • Mountain Top Removal - the removal of the top of a mountain to reach a layer coal, essentially flattening the mountain.
  • Dredging - the removal of resources from underwater
These different variations are effective ways of mining for resources in a timely manner.[1] However, it is an extremely destructive method of mining because it completely destroys the soil and environment where the ground is excavated. Often entire forests are destroyed and not replaced. In the United States of America, during the time frame of 1930-2000, approximately 6 million acres of land was either destroyed or altered due to surface mining.[2] In the past no thought was put into reclamation of the land that was previously mined and even recently with the requirements of reclamation of the land, it is only 10-15% productive in most situation. Complete environmental habitats are destroyed and are not recreated as fast as they are being destroyed.

Hunlunbeier Surface Mine Before Reclemation
Hunlunbeier Surface Mine Before Reclemation

Efforts towards Sustainability

Though surface mining by itself cannot be change drastically from its process to become sustainable, major steps towards making sure the land that was once mined is restored to the original or useful safe state have been made. The biggest step is in regulations, where it used to not be regulated and no restoration had to be done, now a plan has to be in place before the ground is even excavated for the restoration. According to The National Mining Association, reclamation consists of the following 4 steps:
- Contouring of Land
- Placement of topsoil or an approved substitute on the graded area
- Reseeding with native vegetation, crops, and/or trees
- Years of careful monitoring to assure success[3]
If done properly, what was once a mine becomes farmland, a park, or another innovative land reuse project. During the mining process, all topsoil is saved and then when mining is complete, it is used fill the mines back in and to supply a good soil for the reclamation process. Often ponds integrated into the reclamation plans to help bring back a more natural environment and to help with water run off while the vegetation is growing.[4]
Hunlunbeier Surface Mine After Reclemation
Hunlunbeier Surface Mine After Reclemation

Example of Success - Hunlunbeier, Inner Mongolia, China

Locater in Northeastern Inner Mongolia, Hunlunbeier is very rich in coal and known for its extensive grasslands and cold, harsh winters. These factors created a bigger challenge for the Barorixile Coal Mine to create a successful reclamation. However, to date the recl
amation efforts have been successful. The typical design starts by filling in the mine with the topsoil. Next the waste pile is contoured in specific angles and steps. After the pile had been graded to proper angle, humus soil was placed on top. This soil was separated when mined because it has the best properties to ensure the best possible growth of the vegetation. Now the site is a grassland and farm land, which benefits the
locals and their economy. The site is still being monitored, but so far, it is a prime example of the proper way of reclamation.[5]

Water Usage - Groundwater


Groundwater is the most plentiful of all the fresh water in the world. Groundwater is the water that is in aquifers underground and is typically used for drinking water because it is so easily accessible. The aquifers are replenished by water seeping through the ground back into the aquifer.[6] However, this takes time, and often the aquifers are depleted of the resources because the rate at which water is being taken out is higher than the rate at which water is going back into the aquifer. In the US, 64% of ground water is used for irrigation of crops. It supplies 51% of the nations drinking water. If groundwater continues to be used at the current rate, it will be completely depleted without a chance to replenish. If there is not enough water going back into the aquifers, the level of the water lowers, making the water unreachable for some wells. This results in an increase of cost because deeper wells have to be drilled, and pumps that can reach the water must be purchased. As the groundwater continues to be depleted, the land above the aquifer starts to settle because the space that was filled with water, is filled with air instead. This results in aquifers not being able to be
California Groundwater Overdraft
California Groundwater Overdraft

replenished ever because there is no room for the water.[7]

One case were groundwater use was not regulated and is still not regulated enough is in California. Currently in Central Valley, the rate at which groundwater is being taken is two times the amount that naturally replenishes. In California, groundwater is used for everything, from agriculture, to drinking water, to flushing toilets, and watering the lawn. For so long there were no regulations and property owners would drill wells anywhere on their land with no consequences or monitoring. This results in a loss of knowing how much is actually being depleted. Even now, there are no consequences for over drafting water.[8]

Efforts Towards Sustainability

Several efforts have been made to make groundwater more sustainable and to be smarter with the reuse of gray water. However, with all the regulations, and efforts put in by organizations to conserve groundwater, it is really up to the everyday consumer to change their usage patterns to become more sustainable. The Groundwater Foundation lays out ten simple steps to follow to help make groundwater more sustainable, and they are as follows:
  1. Go Native - use plants and vegetation that is native to the environment
  2. Reduce Chemical Use
  3. Manage Waste - dispose of properly
  4. Don't let it run - shut off the water whenever possible (i.e. when brushing teeth)
  5. Fix the drip
  6. Wash Smarter - limit shower time
  7. Water Wisely
  8. Reduce, reuse, recycle
  9. Nature's best
  10. Learn and do more[9]

Example of Success - Israel

The Middle East is constantly in a battle to maintain the limited water resources and to find new and innovative ways to reuse water. In Israel every drop of water is documented and regulated. Approximately 100% of irrigation for crops comes from wastewater. In populated areas 60% of water comes from desalination. A big reason why the regulations work so well is that the farmers are on board and see the benefits for everyone if they use water that is recycled rather than pure drinking water to irrigate their crops. Also drip irrigation, and less wasteful ways of irrigation are used rather than the traditional way. Another reason is that the price of the water is reasonable and properly accounts for the process of purifying and transporting the water. Israel is setting a trend of making water a more sustainable resource and the rest of the world could benefit from following in their footsteps.[10]

Recent Research

Surface Mining and Groundwater continue to be important topics in ongoing research. The following are some links to recent research in both areas.

Surface Mining:

  1. ^ "Surface Mining." (2015) Great Mining, <> (November 28, 2015).
  2. ^ "Mining Impacts." (2010). Greenpeace International, <> (November 30, 2015).
  3. ^ "Reclamation." (2013). The National Mining Association, <> (December 1, 2015).
  4. ^ "Reclamation." (2013). The National Mining Association, <> (December 1, 2015).
  5. ^ Krutka, Holly. (2013). "Case Studies of Successfully Reclaimed Mining Sites." Cornerstone, <> (December 1, 2015).
  6. ^ "The Basics." (2015). The Groundwater Foundation, <> (December 1,2015).
  7. ^ "Potential Threats to Our Groundwater." (2015) The Groundwater Foundation, <> (December 2, 2015).
  8. ^ Choy, Janny and McGhee, Geoff. (2014). "Groundwater: Ignore It, and It Might Go Away." Understanding California's Groundwater, <> (November 30, 2015).
  9. ^ "Ways to Protect and Conserve Groundwater." (2015). The Groundwater Foundation, <> (December 2, 2015).
  10. ^ Famiglietti, Jay. (2013). "Parallel Worlds: Water Management in Israel and California." National Geographic, <> (November 29, 2015).