MPA - essential materials, sustainable solutions
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An essential industry

We all depend upon mineral products. Without them we would have no homes, schools, offices, shops or hospitals. Mineral products provide the basis for our transport network (roads, railways and airports) and for our water and sewage systems.

Similarly, many products we take for granted - paper, plastics, glass, steel, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics, even some of the food we eat - are manufactured using materials derived from mineral extraction.

  • each one of us in the UK generates a demand for nearly four tonnes of aggregates a year (the European average is six tonnes a year)
  • every new home requires an average of 60 tonnes of mineral products
  • the use of lime improves agricultural land and brings a range of environmental benefits (eg in water treatment)

Mineral products and the economy

The UK needs a strong economy and mineral products play a vital role. It supplies the raw materials to the construction industry, which contributes nearly 10 per cent of the nation's gross domestic product (GDP).

  • over 90 per cent of the UK's mineral products are used by the construction industry
  • 70,000 people depend upon the mineral products industry for their livelihoods, many in rural areas where there are limited employment opportunities.

The aggregates tax

Government announced in the March 2000 Budget that an aggregates tax of £1.60 per tonne would be introduced in April 2002.  The current levy rate is £2.00 per tonne. The tax applies to crushed rock and sand and gravel extracted or dredged in the UK for aggregates use. Aggregates exports are not taxed, but imports of aggregates are taxed at the first point of sale in the UK. Imports of products manufactured with aggregates, such as concrete blocks, are not taxed.

Although Government had been considering the tax since July 1997, they have always struggled to justify the Levy’s description of being an environmental tax. Indeed, the MPA had argued, and still does, that the tax is environmentally inefficient - a claim confirmed by independent research.  The levy, although nominally an environmental tax, is in fact a tax on production which takes no account of the environmental impact of supply or the environmental performance of the company supplying aggregates.  The methodology for deriving the original level of the Levy – a study to attach monetary values to the environmental impacts of supplying aggregates - wrongly assumed, for example, that there were no environmental benefits arising from the restoration and afteruse of quarries.  The Levy has added £350 million pa to UK construction costs, about 40% of which has been paid by public sector clients such as the NHS and the Department for Transport.

The Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund in England, which used to release some of the Levy collected back to community and environmental initiatives, has now been scrapped by Government despite MPA representations. The only part of the UK still operating an ALSF is Wales, strongly supported by the minerals industry.

The MPA continues to oppose the Levy as environmentally inefficient.

Transport infrastructure

An efficient transport system is vital for the UK economy, enabling industry to remain competitive and keeping prices in the shops down. Mineral products form the basis of the UK's transport infrastructure - road and rail links as well as airports and ports.

The efficiency of our transport networks is becoming a matter of growing public concern. Effective and well-maintained networks are necessary for the economy to function well and to minimise environmental problems associated with congestion and emissions. Government wishes to encourage higher investment in improving the capacity of rail and public transport system, better maintenance of our road network, and road improvements where appropriate.

  • between 20 and 25 per cent of aggregates produced are used for road maintenance and construction
  • modern asphalt surfaces can significantly reduce road noise and increase road life
  • the Channel Tunnel rail link alone needed over six million tonnes of aggregates
  • the mineral products industry itself is the second biggest user of rail freight

Environmental management

The mineral products industry is conscious of the need to carry out its work sensitively and responsibly. It is committed to minimising the environmental impact of its operations and to making a positive contribution to the environment through the restoration of sites and, in particular, through the creation of new wildlife habitats which can increase biodiversity and geodiversity.

Quarrying is strictly controlled and has to meet high standards of environmental performance set by government and local planning authorities. The industry is continuing to push standards still higher.

Companies implement environmental management systems to ensure that operations are carried out as sensitively as possible. The creation and management of new wildlife habitats is often carried out in partnership with local conservation groups. Biodiversity and Geodiversity action plans are becoming increasingly common throughout the MPA membership to ensure the highest levels of environmental management.

  • it’s estimated that some 700 SSSIs were originally quarries or part of land owned by mineral operators
  • restored gravel pits provide valuable wetland habitats replacing those lost through other activities
  • restoration of sites can also provide new recreational facilities
  • MPA members planted a million trees in the five years to 2011.

For further information on environmental management in the mineral products industry, visit our sustainability microsite here.

Quarries and local communities

Quarry managers seek to establish close relationships with local residents and will consult them about day-to-day operations.

The industry appreciates that lorries can be of great concern to local communities and, where possible, steps are taken to minimise the disturbance. This includes using set routes and limiting the hours of use.

  • Mineral extraction and associated industries can generate significant income and employment for local communities.
  • environmental standards are continually improving, so further reducing impacts
  • most mineral products are used locally, improving the quality of local housing, transport, hospitals, schools and other buildings and structures.
  • MPA supports the industry in working with local communities in terms of both education and safety. The industry takes the welfare of its local communities very seriously and fences and boundary walls are constantly checked to ensure the public remains clear of potentially dangerous areas.
  • Education resources have been created, such as the Virtual Quarry that help us engage the public with our industry and interest young people in the wealth of learning opportunities that the mineral products industry can offer.

For further information on how the industry works with local communities, visit our sustainability microsite here.

Health and Safety

The health and a safety of employees and contractors is the top priority for the industry. We are committed to driving down accident rates and continually review working practices to improve site safety. There is huge range of specific programmes and resources created by the MPA to help with the task, see the sustainability microsite here.

The MPA Health and Safety Awards encourage good practice and are strongly supported by member companies. Find out more about the awards at

The industry is also committed to ensuring that local residents, especially children, are aware of the dangers of entering a quarry unsupervised. An annual "Stay Safe" campaign delivers this important message. Find out more here.

The MPA has also launched a Cycle Safe campaign which aims to prevent collisions between cyclists and Large Goods Vehicles (LGVs) by raising awareness of how to cycle and drive as safely as possible. For more information, click here.

Quarry Picture

Transportation of mineral products

Mineral products are generally used within a 30-mile radius of a quarry and so tend to be transported by road. Rail transport is used for long distance haulage.

  • about 80 per cent of mineral products are used within 30 miles of the quarry
  • the mineral products industry is the second biggest user of rail freight (after coal)
  • around 30 million tonnes of quarry products are transported outside of the road network each year
  • the mineral products industry has invested heavily in rail facilities and rolling stock and is strongly committed to rail freight.


Many very interesting archaeological remains have been discovered as a result of quarrying and the industry is a major funder of archaeological digs.

It is industry practice to give access to archaeologists where interesting remains are revealed.

  • rare finds include Stanwick Roman Villa (Northants), Boxgrove Man (West Sussex), Saxon Helmet (Northants).
  • the cost of the industry´s commitment to archaeology has been around £10 million in recent years.

For further information on how the industry assists archaeology, visit the sustainability microsite here


The industry fully supports recycling. The use of recycled and secondary materials is already well established and currently accounts for nearly 30% of the aggregates market, with the UK being the leader in Europe in recycled materials production.

Recycled materials used in aggregates markets includes construction and demolition waste and materials such as steel slags and china clay waste derived from other extractive and production industries.

For further information on recycled aggregates click here

Coastal quarries

Coastal extraction is a concept whereby large volumes of aggregates can be transported over long distances by sea to meet demand where traditional sources of aggregates are either exhausted or constrained. Government planning policy assumes the need for greater supplies of aggregates from sources other than traditional land-based quarries in the future. One major coastal quarry - Glensanda - has been operating in Scotland for ten years. Such quarries can make an important contribution to aggregates supply and provide much needed local employment.

These developments are subject to the same rigorous planning and environmental considerations that apply to any quarry proposal. Scottish Executive planning policy sets an upper limit of a total of four major coastal quarries in the future.

Marine dredging

Sand and gravel extraction from the sea is often the best way to supply aggregates to coastal towns and those on navigable rivers. It makes an important contribution to the national supply, particularly in London and the South East where one third of primary aggregates come from marine sources. Marine aggregates also play a strategic role in supplying large scale coastal defence and beach replenishment projects and support the successful delivery of major infrastructure projects associated with Government policies relating to energy and climate change.

We are very aware of the need to carry out dredging in an environmentally acceptable way and operations are carefully controlled by the companies themselves and by Government regulators. To ensure the highest standards are maintained, licences are only granted once thorough environmental impact assessments have demonstrated the proposed extraction will not result in unacceptable impacts on the environment or other marine users.

Marine aggregates supply approximately 21 per cent of the sand and gravel requirements of England and Wales.

  • extracting sand and gravel at sea means fewer land based quarries are needed to meet the demand (an additional 400 hectares pa).
  • over 60 licence areas are currently licensed, totalling an area of 1274km2.
  • The industry operates 27 vessels, which produce around 20 million tonnes every year. 
  • Government policy (UK Marine Policy Statement 2011) recognises 'The UK has some of the best marine aggregate resources in the world. Marine sand and gravel makes a crucial contribution to meeting the nation’s demand for construction aggregate materials, essential for the development of our built environment.'

For further information on marine aggregates, click here. The MPA’s constituent marine association, the British Marine Aggregate Producers Association also has its own website at

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