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Tailings are a by-product of the mining and refining process which remain after recoverable metals and minerals have been extracted from mined ore.

Tailings are commonly in the form of a slurry (a mixture of solids and process water) and are discharged into a tailings storage facility (TSF). The safe management of TSFs is an integral part of mining and processing activities.

South32 and the Board of Directors are committed to plan, design, construct and operate tailings storage facilities in a manner that reduces long-term impacts, risks, and liabilities.

Reducing waste generated from our operations is a key part of our commitment to continuously improving our sustainability performance. The bulk of our waste volumes originate from tailings, which are the materials left after we have removed the target minerals from the ore.

Our approach to tailings management

Our approach to tailings management

Our approach to tailings management is consistent with the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) Tailings Management: Good Practice Guide, which is informed by the requirements of the GISTM and the commitments in the ICMM’s Tailings Governance Framework Position Statement, the ICMM Mining Principles, as well as the Australian National Committee on Large Dams (ANCOLD) guidelines. These requirements are embedded in our internal dam management standard.

Our overarching approach to tailings management is to achieve stable tailings. This involves understanding tailings behaviour, reducing water content at TSFs, and developing innovative construction techniques for these TSFs. 

We recognise the potential risks TSFs present to our people, our communities, the environment and shareholders. Our ‘Approach to Tailings Management’ reflects our commitment to safe and responsible management throughout the TSF lifecycle and applies to South32 operated TSFs.


As outlined in 'Our Approach to Tailings Management’ we are committed to:

  • Managing TSFs with the aim of protecting our employees, surrounding communities, the environment and our physical assets, throughout the TSF lifecycle;
  • Implementing the Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management (GISTM) at all South32-operated TSFs. We also support and advocate implementation of the GISTM at all our non-operated joint venture TSFs, within the limits of the joint venture arrangements;
  • Monitoring and independent auditing of our TSFs so that controls for TSF risks can be comprehensively assessed and continually improved;
  • Regularly updating and testing our tailings emergency preparedness and response plans;
  • Pursuing opportunities that will improve reuse and recovery of our tailings waste streams thus reducing our environmental footprint and closure legacy;
  • Financial provisioning for TSF closure; and
  • Assessing the physical impacts of climate change at all our operated assets to anticipate required changes in management of our current and future TSFs.

For information on our progress and performance on tailings management, refer to the South32 Sustainable Development Report.

Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management

As an ICMM member company, we are committed to implementing the GISTM at all South32-operated TSFs. Tailings storage facilities with an extreme or very high potential consequence classification are required to be in conformance with the GISTM by 5 August 2023, while TSFs with a lower consequence rating are required to be in conformance by 5 August 2025. 

South32 does not have any ‘extreme’ consequence TSFs, with only Worsley Alumina having ‘very high’ consequence TSFs. Our Principle 15.1 Public Disclosure for Worsley Alumina report, published on 4 August 2023, is available here

In alignment with the GISTM we manage our facilities based on the level or risk and engage with our communities on the design, management, and operation of our facilities, communicating the degree of risk inherent to the facility.  

We are committed to regularly updating and testing our tailings emergency response preparedness and response plans.

Tailings Storage Facilities

As of 30 June 2023, we operate 30 TSFs. Eighteen of these are active, 10 are inactive and two are closed. You can read more about our TSFs in our Sustainability Databook. 

Our 2023 GISTM disclosures can be found below:

GISTM Public Disclosures

GISTM Public Disclosure - Worsley Alumina

Published August 2023

Voluntary Remediation Project at Hermosa

We’ve constructed a state-of-the-art dry stack tailings storage facility at our Hermosa Project in Arizona, which remediates over two million tonnes of waste from a historic mine. The new facility meets the highest safety and environmental standards. The approach adopted goes beyond the requirements of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, and involved over a million work hours with a total cost of US$30 million.

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