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Tailings

Tailings continues to be a key focus for our industry and stakeholders in the wake of the tragedy at Brumadinho in 2019.

Our work focuses on two main areas. The first is on supporting members to achieve the fastest and widest adoption and implementation of the Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management, including engaging with the development of the Global Tailings Management Institute (GTMI). The second is exploring breakthrough technologies – through our Tailings Reduction Roadmap – to help significantly reduce the production of tailings through innovations across the mining cycle.

 

Issue at a Glance

  • Tailings production is inherent to mining and metals processing and will remain so for the foreseeable future. It usually takes the form of a liquid slurry made of fine metal or mineral particles and water – created when mined ore is crushed and finely ground in a milling process to enable the metals and minerals of interest to be extracted.
  • To reduce tailings at source requires innovation and a wide understanding of waste production in mining at all stages, from exploration onwards. As a membership organisation we understand that the best solutions are created through partnerships and robust engagement with different groups from across the industry and beyond.
  • The long-term management of tailings is the responsibility of the mining companies that produce them and is subject to varying regulatory regimes. Tailings management needs to be effective throughout the life of an operation, from choosing a preferred location, initial feasibility studies through to closure and post-closure. In 2019 the Church of England Pensions Board and the Council on Ethics of the Swedish National Pension Funds wrote to extractive companies, including ICMM’s company members, asking them to disclose details of their tailings storage facilities. ICMM is supportive of greater transparency on this important issue and encourage members to publish details of the tailings storage facilities that they own or operate on their websites.

Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management

  • In response to the catastrophic failure of a tailings dam at Vale’s Córrego do Feijão mine near Brumadinho in 2019, ICMM, together with UN Environment Programme (UNEP), Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) convened the Global Tailings Review to establish an international standard for the safer management of tailings storage facilities. This resulted in the publication of the Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management in August 2020.
  • The Standard is an important milestone towards our ambition of zero harm to people and the environment from tailings facilities. It strengthens requirements for accountability and independent oversight. It enhances transparency and disclosure. Most importantly, it puts communities at the centre of safe tailings management.
  • ICMM is supporting members to achieve the fastest and widest adoption and implementation of the Standard. Members committed to fully conform with the Standard for tailings facilities classified as ‘extreme’ or ‘very high’ consequences by August 2023 and all other facilities by August 2025 — our latest communications on conformance to the Standard is available here.
  • This commitment galvanised immediate and sustained action by ICMM members, representing one third of the global mining industry, and the Standard is driving change across the industry already. As of February 2023, 128 companies (including ICMM’s 25 members) representing over 70 per cent (by market capitalisation of publicly listed companies) have indicated they intend to implement or are formally reviewing the Standard. We are pleased to share links to the progress that our member companies have made so far.
  • To support this commitment, ICMM has developed a Tailings Management: Good Practice Guide and associated training materials to support its practical use and implementation. In addition, we have developed Conformance Protocols to enable conformance with the Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management to be assessed.
  • PRI and UNEP are working to establish a body that will oversee conformance with the Standard and promote uptake. Once set up, the Global Tailings Management Institute (GTMI) will mark another milestone towards a shared goal of zero harm to people and the environment from tailings facilities. We have welcomed the opportunity to take part in the Advisory Panel to design the institute and look forward to further collaboration to support its establishment.

Tailings Innovation

  • Tailings reduction is an ambitious challenge that affects most parts of the mining process. We are exploring breakthrough technologies to help significantly reduce the production of tailings through innovations across the mining cycle. ICMM’s Tailings Innovation Initiative brings together our members with technology innovators to accelerate the development and roll out of technology capable of reducing tailings waste or even eliminating it in the long-term.
  • ICMM has published a Tailings Reduction Roadmap which lays out some of the most promising and innovative approaches and solutions for reducing tailings from the mine life cycle, in both the short and long-term — some of which are currently being piloted by members. The roadmap also provides strategic direction on addressing both technological challenges, such as testing a new technology on different ore characteristics, and creating enabling factors for success, including the business case, in parallel.

 

Our Projects

Innovation to Minimise Tailings Production

In 2019, ICMM committed to exploring innovative approaches and technologies to significantly reduce tailings from the mine life cycle. We believe that the best solutions are created by partnerships and have been engaging with partners across the mining and metals industry, including technology providers and suppliers, academics, investors and other industry representatives to reduce or eliminating the generation of tailings waste. We will continue this work by investigating and identifying alternative methods of metal and mineral recovery.


Effective Management of Tailings

If not managed properly, tailings can have chronic adverse impacts on health, wellbeing and environmental integrity, with pollution from effluent and dust emissions being potentially toxic to humans, animals and plants. Recognising this, we are working with members to adopt a more proactive approach to tailings management by supporting improved education of tailings professionals, and promoting uptake of latest tailings monitoring technologies. This evolution away from a more reactive stance, in effect places ESG as the main driver for improved performance and innovation across the tailings facility lifecycle.


Support Members With Implementing the Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management

When the Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management was launched in August 2020, ICMM members committed that all tailings facilities with an extreme or very high consequence classification would be in conformance within 3 years, and all other facilities within 5 years. Given these ambitious timeframes, implementation support is our first priority. ICMM facilitates peer to peer sharing and learning between members on specific implementation challenges through monthly virtual knowledge shares. Depending on the area of focus, this may involve geotechnical, social, environmental or closure management expertise. In addition, we host ad hoc case study or technical sessions with external parties (eg technical solution providers, consultants, etc) and members to exchange ideas on how to address specific challenges.


Promote Broad-Based Update and Implementation of the Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management

ICMM, alongside UNEP and PRI, remains committed to promoting broad-based uptake and implementation of the Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management. We participate in numerous conferences and workshops to ensure as broad an awareness and understanding of the Standard as possible. In addition, we engage closely and collaborate with tailings management course providers to influence their content, make ICMM’s training resources on tailings management freely available, and extend the reach of their offerings by building awareness of the availability of their courses.


Develop a Roadmap for Tailings Reduction

Tailings reduction is an ambitious challenge that impacts most parts of the mining process. After undertaking a landscape review of available, emerging, and prospective technologies, with the engagement of multiple stakeholders from academia, industry, technology companies among others, ICMM has developed a Tailings Reduction Roadmap with a waste management hierarchy that aligns with the stages of a conventional mining value chain.

In providing strategic direction on how to accelerate the adoption or development of technologies capable of reducing tailings production the Roadmap allows industries to better understand and engage on barriers and aspirations in the creation and implementation of tailings reduction technologies.