Everyone views waste as a cost centre. We move rock out of the way to get the good stuff. The shiny metals, the high-value gemstones, the money makers.
But what if we've had it wrong all this time and we just haven't been seeing the full potential held within the volumes of rock that we move?
When it comes to mining, there are others who aren't in pursuit of the shiny stuff. Instead, they look for those industrial minerals needed for oh, so many applications. The consumables needed in the making of various everyday industrial, building, household, and personal care and beauty products too. The consumables, also, needed for the processing of various ores.
These types of products are in demand by particular sectors, and in many cases, major source deposits, particularly of high quality, are diminishing. In this arena, new products are also created all the time, with shifting consumer demands, and different requirements for new material specifications needed for technological advances.
Take for example uses for silica sand. Once upon a time, it was only used in the production of glass for certain applications like windows and storage containers. Now, glass is used everywhere, and has differing requirements in terms of strength. Silica is also used in many industrial consumables, with one relatively new use driving up demand, and the price, for high quality grades. Think of applications like fracking and recovery wells.
Our sector has started to open the doors of collaboration. It has started with addressing some of our most common challenges, particularly associated with common commodities.
In example, we are gaining comfort in co-opetition scenarios, where competing companies are pooling resources and collaborating to solve environmental challenges such as acid generation, or selenium. Everyone is interested in lowering the energy demands of comminution, and improving the stability and safety of dams.
We've also started to look outside our sectors for challenges in material handling, renewable energy alternatives, and the digital realm. So why haven't we looked closer at cross-commodity collaboration on development, extraction and waste minimization?
I'm sure we've all heard the saying, "one man's waste is another man's treasure"...so shouldn't this apply to mine wastes too!?
What if we chose to look at every acre of land we touch as a landscape of significant potential value?
Studies have shown that our brains zero in on, connect the dots, and find solutions, based on what we want most. When we do this, we suddenly find evidence that proves our points. Or we start to see multiple people with that thing that we want or are thinking about. Even if we were blind to it before.
Hasn't this ever happened to you?
Think about it. When is the last time you put a thought towards what is in that waste rock or tailings of yours? If you did, was it only to figure out how to best contain it? How to control the risks of the leachates that might form over time?
Maybe it’s time we start thinking differently about our wastes. If we looked at every fragment of rock we need to touch as someone else's gemstone, how might we alternatively manage that rock? What might we produce from that mass? Who else might we engage to work with us?
All things have value, can bring value, if you have the right mindset. For this scenario of converting "waste" in mining to value-add products, I like to call them 10X gains:
Less waste = less cost overall
Partners to share costs and risks
Happier, more supportive stakeholders
Increased Returns on Investments
Greater value for all...
So what comes next?
I've been highlighting these opportunities for several years, working in the past with Canada Mining Innovation Council (CMIC) under their Zero Waste Initiative, and now with the CIM Environmental & Social Responsibility Society (ESRS), to increase interest on this front.
In February 2018, ESRS hosted a webinar focused on this topic and other ways to increase the value derived from mining developments - I presented on this topic at CIM 2017, so this was an extended version of that talk combined with a few new thoughts and collaboration opportunities noted below. If you are interested, you are more than welcome to review this recorded webinar...
At the CIM 2018 Conference, the overall theme was be "Thinking Differently" - something I 100% buy into! Our ESRS lineup included a full session on the topic of waste reprocessing, and I am pleased that a national collaboration project called “Value from Waste” has also been initiated under Canada's new Clean Growth strategy.
You can become a part of this network to help it advance - will you join us?
It's your next move!
About Karen Chovan…
I’m on a mission to alter the way industrial developments and projects are planned, designed and operated - such that they have holistically and proactively pre-empted environmental and social risks from a full lifecycle perspective. I help identify new options, make better decisions, and generate or recognize value where others see only cost, all in a streamlined and effective method of delivery.