4 Ways to Manage the Mining Waste

From home appliances to electronic products we use, each of them requires a material source to produce them. Humans are using the resources present on the earth or within the crust. Different types of waste are produced around the world, depending upon the activities. With the advent of industrialization, the extraction of material from the earth is increasing. This extraction, also known as mining, produces emissions and solid waste also. It is no longer a secret that mining produces a large amount of waste. Management of mining waste becomes crucial because hazardous gases could also emit from mining activities. This article will give an overview of mining waste and ways to manage the waste.

The mining industry is an essential asset as it generates employment. Nevertheless, the mining industry produces waste also. Extracting and processing minerals produce a large amount of waste. Not to stop there, leftovers affect the human and environment for a long time. The waste includes topsoil burden, tailings, and mining rocks. Detail of the waste material produce during and after mining is as follows:


The volume of waste produced by the mining industry is high.
However, the mining industry is one of those industries that actively recycle their waste.

  • Rocks or solid mining waste:
A large amount of rocks and soil is removed to access the minerals. Imagine how much solid mining waste is produced each day! Around 5 tons of waste is removed to get a ton of ore.
  • Gangue:
An impure mineral – that has rocks mixed with it – is known as gangue. It needs processing to separate the impurities from actual minerals also known as mineral processing. The separation produces waste also.
  • Tailings:
As a result of mineral processing, finely ground rocks and waste is composed. Tailings contain chemicals that involve in processing. Therefore, it’s hazardous and requires proper disposal.
  • Mine Water:
Water is used during the mining process and becomes contaminated. This water may contain chemical substances such as acid. Contaminated water could mix with drinking water resources and pollute it. This phenomenon is known as acid mine drainage. Acid mine drainage (AMD) and Acid Rock Drainage (ARD) are two concerns of mine water.
  • Sludge:
Sludge is also produced at some mining sites. Sludge has chemicals and additional solids employed during the process. It has little to no economic value, so it’s considered waste. Sludge could be hazardous or non-hazardous depending upon the chemicals mixed. The management of waste requires protocols according to the waste type.
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Images from www.pexels.com

The topic of mining waste management gets attention because millions of hectares in Africa, Asia, and other continents are contaminated with mine waste. Environmental damage has plagued the history of mining activities. In 2009, 7 million tons of tailing waste was dumped from a god mine to Lower Slate Lake. All life in the lake was destroyed. The types of mining waste could help to understand how different types of mine waste can be managed. So, without further ado, let’s get into the topic.

 

The volume of waste produced by the mining industry is high. However, the mining industry is one of those industries that actively recycle their waste. Mining industries utilize their waste in construction as a material source.


  1. Backfilling

  2. Disposal
  3. Reuse and Recycling:
  4. Remediation

1- Backfilling: 

Mine waste is usually dumped back into the pit to fill the void and gap. Backfill grouting strengthens the rocks by filling the gap and support the overlying strata. Fly ash slurry is used as backfill grouting in coal mines. Although backfilling do not cause any damage to human because people usually don’t live near such sites, it affects the environment. However, the emission of radioactive gases could travel long distances and affect plants and animals. Overburden dumps are usually reclaimed by planting trees. This maintains the pH, moisture content, and the whole nutrient content of the soil.

Overburden causes several accidents if not properly compacted. So, maintaining the slope and height of the overburden is necessary.

 

2- Disposal:

Traditionally the waste is managed by surface disposal. However, this process has severe environmental impacts. Solid waste, if it contains hazardous material, could emit radiation that affects human health. Air, water, and land pollution are some concerns associated with mining waste. So, mine waste management companies have devised new methods that have minimum impact on the environment.

 

3-Reuse and Recycling:

Mining waste can be recycled as it contains valuable materials also. The mining industry could recycle its waste to recover useful materials that they can use. Moreover, the mining waste can be reused in the construction of haul roads. Overburden of waste is used as construction aggregate for buildings. Engineers use tailing waste for internal construction purposes. Mine tailings are reused for producing tiles, clay, and concrete. Similarly, water used during the process is cleaned and use in industries as coolant. Thus, materials could become part of the loop and no longer remain waste.

4-Remediation

The environmental footprint of mining can minimize by developing innovative technologies in this field. Open-pit mining produces acidic lakes with high sulphate and metal content. Remediation of these lakes is possible by adding any base that neutralizes the impact of acid.

 

Challenges in the management of mine waste:

Although the mining industry is managing its waste, there are some environmental concerns related to waste. Overburden may flow away with heavy rainfall and contaminate the water bodies. Similarly, the use of mining waste for building and construction purposes releases toxic gases such as radon that continuously affect people’s health. Recycling of mine waste release gases and consume energy, thus compromising the health of workers. Lastly, remediation is not favourable because the cleaning cost is much higher than the prevention cost. So, remediation is not economically feasible.

 

Conclusion:

Minerals and materials are required for carrying out every industrial operation. Mining minerals impact both humans and their environment. Waste produced during mining and afterward require proper management to minimize the impact. Specific mine waste management approaches include reusing and recycling waste, backfilling, remediation, and proper disposal. However, waste can affect the environment since these are not sustainable ways to manage the waste. In addition to it, chances of accident also increase due to disposal and backfilling. Our first and foremost approach should be to prevent waste production rather than cleaning it up.