While a bag of stones or gravel may look fairly benign, the process of getting it can be anything but. Aggregate is mined from the earth, either dug out of pits or blasted out of quarries. This process can have many environmental impacts. Creating pits or quarries for the extraction of stone, sand, gravel and shale removes virtually all natural vegetation, top soil, and subsoil. It leads to the loss of existing animal and plant species and by removing their habitats. Adjacent ecosystems are also affected by noise, dust, pollution and water issues.
As a result, many proposed pits and quarries are being fought by citizens’ groups and environmental organizations. Perhaps the most well-known fight is on Mount Nemo, the Niagara Escarpment home of singer Sarah Harmer.
I sense that the intensity and frequency of these fights is similar to the conflicts that used to happen with the forest industry. You may recall that some years ago, the forest industry faced similar issues: many heated and public battles, such as the long dispute over Temagami or the intense battles in B.C. over old growth forests.
But we haven’t heard as much about forestry issues these days. This may be due to the success of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which is creating solutions to ensure sustainable forestry in Canada. By establishing a partnership between industry, environmental and Aboriginal organizations, as well as unions, FSC is an international certification standard, ensuring that forests are certified against a set of strict environmental and social standards. FSC also includes a labelling system that guarantees customers that forest products come from responsibly managed forests and verified recycled sources.
The FSC supports environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial, and economically viable management of the world’s forests. Modelling on FSC, what could be done for aggregates? Perhaps a Green Gravel certification, developed by the industry, ENGOs, unions and citizen’s groups, can lead to a new standard for better aggregate extraction and recycling.
A Green Gravel certification could include:
- best management operational standards for pits and quarries
- “no-dig” areas where aggregate extraction is prohibited because of the ecological or agricultural value of the land
- recycling standards for bringing old road and building materials into the stream for new roads and concrete
- rehabilitation of operating and older pits and quarries
- some financing mechanism for an independent body that would govern a green gravel standard
- reasonable timeframe for permits of those pits that will proceed
What made FSC successful was the broad representation by all major stakeholders including NGOs, ENGOs, the industry, and First Nations. FSC certification has become so wide-spread that everywhere I look now, I can see their certified label on paper products: even my bank statements are on FSC-certified paper.
It would be interesting to replicate the success of FSC for the aggregate industry.
Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation