7 months ago

Opportunity Issue 101

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WASTE MANAGEMENT South Africa’s mining waste opportunity Kate Stubbs, Marketing Director at Interwaste At the end of 2021, mining output rose above 11%, with net profits increased by 285% thanks to higher commodity prices and improved production as well as an estimated 39% rise in mineral sales. While the prospects look much stronger for the South African mining sector, the reality is that we only account for 1% of global mining exploration expenditure and so the financial sustainability of the sector remains strained. More importantly, as legislation changes and more is demanded of this sector, further pressure impacts the bottom line. Waste management legislation is a key example of this pressure, but the good news is that there are innovative and sustainable ways to address cost pressures and, in fact, when it comes to managing waste effectively, there are solutions coming to the fore that can drive down costs and simultaneously deliver environmental and economic benefits. The mining sector produces a significant amount of waste which has a large impact on the environment and communities across the country. We are seeing that Zero Waste to Landfill (ZW2L) strategies are being adopted by mining giants, with vested interests and operations locally in support of their existing commitments to sustainable development, and to ensure compliance with the National Waste Management Strategy and regulatory framework, i.e. National Environmental Management Act (NEMA, Act 107 of 1998) and the Waste Act, 2008 (Act 59 of 2008) – all of which is encouraging. This requirement to meet changing legislation has seen the mining sector focusing on eliminating unnecessary wastage, and waste generation and further optimising resource efficiency through sustainable product designs, recovery, reuse and recycling of products, or energy production by utilising the systematic application of the waste hierarchy - and implementing strategies to minimise and reduce the impact of such operations. The positive results of remediation, removing and repurposing dormant mine dumps for example are now being considered a de facto standard for operations. The industry at large is embracing change and finding new ways to integrate innovative waste management strategies into its operations where we are seeing many more mines mitigating risks by conducting comprehensive Environment Impact Assessments (EIAs) and implementing sustainable solutions for the full lifecycle of the mine and adopting circular economy and zero waste to landfill strategies. One of the big areas of focus is finding alternative energy sources such as waste derived fuel production facilities. It is here that waste plays a significant role. Several technologies are available to convert waste to energy. Currently, as an example, we have pioneered two types of Refuse Derived Fuels (RDF) locally, one solid and one liquid, and try convert as much industrial waste into this product as our current capacity allows. RDF is a solid fuel source recovered through the shredding and bailing of certain pre-sorted dry industrial non-recyclable waste. The RDF we produce requires no heat for drying, produces a cleaner RDF and a much higher heating value similar to that of A-grade coal, thus forming a very suitable and robust alternative to fossil fuel use. Such fuels can be used within sole/co-feeding plants and replaces conventional fuels (e.g. coal) in production plants for power, steam and heat generation, cement kilns and other suitable combustion installations. If we use the mining sector as an example again, rubber is one of their biggest waste streams (tyres, conveyor belts, etc) and can be put through an RDF process by using technology to strip out the wire, remove beading of OTR (off the road) tyres, cut in half, quarter and shred down into particular sizes for RDF use in other industries. While this is in its infancy, there is a growing need for it and cost wise, can provide a good offtake for the mining sector if you consider the reuse of existing waste and the savings in carbon emissions and responsible waste management. Other processes such as thermal destruction, gasification, pyrolysis, anaerobic digestion, and landfill gas recovery can also create an energy stream. Our company has a very successful campaign where we produce alternative fuel - which is generated from blending suitable hazardous waste, such as hydrocarbon and chemical hazardous waste at our facility in Germiston. The alternative fuel is currently transported to cement kilns, where it is then combusted through co-processing. This project is benchmarked to supply up to 1000 tons per month of consistent fuel per kiln. From a mining perspective, while this waste is not going back into the mining sector as yet, mining waste is used in such processing - contributing to a stronger reuse and repurpose mindset within the sector. There are also other strong examples of waste management solutions available to industry currently, including: • On-site bioremediation of hydrocarbon contaminated soils to compost for use on mine • Oily rag, hydrocarbon contaminated PPE – laundry on or offsite – enables the cleaning and re-use of these materials back into workshops and old PPE cut into rags for reuse. • Garden and wooden pallet processing onsite for potential bioremediation or alternative energy use • On or off-site Anaerobic digesters for canteen and food waste – eliminates waste which can then be used to generate energy such as steam or gas for other processing plants • Collaborating on investing in central transfer stations involving communities to leverage economies of scale and minimize transport costs e.g. bulk recycling processing or consolidating loads to transport to alternative treatment facilities. • Local waste opportunities such as the pyrolysis of general waste tailings, rubber or plastic products. Waste management in mining is evolving with new sustainable and innovative solutions coming into play. As a result, mining waste management companies need to create tailored waste management services, which range from analysing and classifying waste streams; aligning the processing thereof to current and future legislation, and then designing and implementing solutions that meet the mine’s goals. But similarly, these solutions need to focus on safety, environmental, social and economic benefits and of course, have the potential to lower operating costs and improve profits. In fact, we are already seeing mining companies being more receptive to the effective waste management solutions and programmes – actively investing in them and ensuring legal compliance and overall sustainability of a mine as well in conjunction with improving cost pressures.

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