Part 2- Metals

Pause and ReflectWhen is it better to use wood over metal? Why? Can you think of some examples?

We will look at metals concerning the Life Cycle Thinking and the Five Rs:






Life Cycle- Considerations (A Case Study): 

The Elk Valley in southeast British Columbia is Ktunaxa Ɂamakis—the homeland of the Ktunaxa peoples. Its also forms part of the traditional territory of the Stoney Nakoda Nations. There are four large coal mines in this area owned and operated by Teck Resources, all producing steelmaking coal (also known as metallurgical or coking coal). Steel is important in the transition to a low carbon future, as many green building techniques or technologies rely on this material, and though there are less carbon-intensive steelmaking processes emerging as viable alternatives, coal-based steelmaking still accounts for the vast majority of production. This short video from Teck Resources has information on the value of steelmaking coal in our current economy:

The Elk Valley coal mines exist on unceded Indigenous territories and affected nations did not consent to their development. The mines’ massive scale translates to significant impact on Indigenous ways of life as well as the surrounding environment. One of the most prominent current environmental concerns in this area relates to selenium levels in local waterways. Selenium is a naturally occurring element that is essential to plant and animal life; however, at high levels, it causes birth defects in fish and birds and also represents a threat to human health. When the Elk Valley coal mines were initially developed, the link between mining and selenium was not well understood, and environmental regulations were inadequate to manage contamination. As a result of this legacy of poor practice, selenium levels in the Elk River and downstream waterways like the Kootenay River now have elevated selenium concentrations which are negatively affecting aquatic life and local communities .

The Ktunaxa peoples have lived in the Kootenay River valley, in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains, since time immemorial. Their culture is closely linked to the landscape, with the Ktunaxa creation story referencing some of the rivers, settlements, and natural landmarks that today are affected by the mining of steelmaking coal in the region. To learn more about this relationship, view nakuɁkin Joe Pierre’s telling of the Ktunaxa creation story in the video linked below:

Life Cycle- Material Considerations:

The production of metal is a highly intensive process. As mentioned in the story above, the high selenium levels affected local waterways in the Elk Valley region. Metal alloys (like copper) for example, involve removing ore from the ground then separating the metal from the rock. To separate the metal, water or chemical baths are used. The ensuing sludge constitutes the largest challenge to ecosystems as the chemicals can seep in to the environment affecting plants and plants, animals, and marine life (Briffa et al., 2020).

However, the opportunities to reuse and recycle the material provide contractors with choices that other materials may not provide. On the next page, there are two tables provided from the European Commission in 2003 which outline both the default lifetime (Table 3.9) and end-of-life scenario (Table. 3.14) for various metal products:


Greening and Indigenizing the Carpentry Trade Copyright © by adamothomas; Inci Sariz Bilge; and Tyler Ballam. All Rights Reserved.

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