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Waste and tailings

The safe management of waste from our operations and projects is essential to operating responsibly.

We are committed to reducing waste generated from our operations. Our highest waste volumes come from tailings – materials left after we have removed the target minerals from the ore.

Our other waste streams include rock, water and materials containing hazardous chemicals or with dangerous physical properties, as well as non-hazardous waste.

Our approach

We manage waste in line with ICMM Mining Principle 8 - Responsible Production and ICMM Mining Principle 6 - Environmental Performance, and apply the mitigation hierarchy as part of our approach. This hierarchy prioritises waste prevention, followed by minimisation, reuse, recycling, energy recovery and disposal.

Our commitment to waste management is incorporated into our Sustainability Policy and managed through our internal environment standard, approved by the CEO. Our internal environment standard sets out the minimum performance requirements, designed so that our operations become even more effective at classifying, quantifying, managing and disposing of waste.

Our performance requirements call on all operations that are exposed to waste-related risks to:

  • Improve the way they identify, assess, quantify and report the risks and opportunities associated with all their waste streams, using a waste register;
  • Implement effective procedures and controls to handle, segregate, store, transport and dispose of their waste;
  • Keep a record of all waste that is moved off-site for disposal, so that this is done in line with local laws and internal requirements; and
  • Implement governance processes (risk-based) to verify the treatment, handling and disposal of waste is being undertaken in accordance with local laws and internal requirements.

To support our new performance requirements, we have a five-step waste reduction methodology to help our operations identify value-based opportunities in their waste streams. This supports our aspiration to continue to reduce and design our waste in line with the circular economy principles.

Our internal dam management standard requires that tailings are deposited as 'dense and dry as possible' to increase their stability and safety. We achieve this by using several different tailings disposal techniques to remove water from, and compact, the tailings material. These techniques include dry stacking, amphirolling, water recycling and the permitted discharge of excess water.

Our approach to tailings management is consistent with the ICMM Tailings Governance Framework and Position Statement on Preventing Catastrophic Failure of Tailings Storage Facilities, as well as the Australian National Committee on Large Dams (ANCOLD) guidelines.

These requirements are embedded in our internal dam management standard. Tailings are our highest volume waste stream and managing them requires a multi-faceted approach. This involves understanding more about the physical properties of specific tailings, reducing water contact at tailings storage facilities and developing innovative construction techniques for these facilities.

As an ICMM member company, we have committed to implement the Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management GISTM) at all South32-operated locations. All tailings facilities with 'extreme' or 'very high' potential consequences are required to be in conformance with the Standard by August 2023. All other tailings facilities are required to be in conformance with the Standard by August 2025.

We have 29 tailings storage facilities (TSFs) located across both our owned and operated sites and those that we operate on behalf of joint venture partners. Seventeen of these TSFs are active, 10 are inactive, and two are closed. Our joint venture partners operate 33 TSFs.

You can read more about our TSFs in the 2022 Sustainability Databook

The nature of our mining and processing activities can result in gaseous air emissions, noise, effluents and contamination. We actively manage these and prevent and minimise any impact on neighbouring communities and the environment, in line with our strategy.

Learn about our greenhouse gas emissions and response to climate change here.

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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