Materials flow in mining and metals

Materials World magazine
1 Aug 2009

The International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM), based in London, UK, has launched a 23-point action plan for chemicals management in the supply chain as part of its Materials Stewardship concept. Dr Ben Davies, Senior Programme Officer at ICMM, discusses the initiative and its progress.

The Materials Stewardship theme encompasses chemicals and lifecycle management, and sustainable production and consumption. Members of the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM), based in London, UK, are prompted to manage the production and use of materials to maximise net benefit, minimise losses and conserve resources.

The ability to act as a good steward requires action in parts of the lifecycle where a company has direct control over its materials, as well as developing relationships to promote good
practice outside the mine or factory gate. The industry relies on a ‘social licence’ to operate – doing all it can to ensure that materials are produced and used responsibly is vital.

The three ‘Rs’


‘Reduce, reuse and recycle’ was central to ICMM’s launch of the Minerals and Metals Management 2020 action plan at the UN’s Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) meeting in Geneva on 11 May.

The UN adopted SAICM in 2006. Its goal is for chemicals (including minerals and metals) to be used and produced in ways that are friendly to the environment and human health by 2020. The ICMM believes that this is only achievable by taking care of the materials through their whole lifecycle – in other words by good materials stewardship.

Developments in the automotive sector show the potential. Scrapped vehicles are being recycled or reused, with valuable steel, aluminium and plastic parts going back into production.

Action plan

There are four key elements to the recent ICMM strategy for chemicals management.

Looking at systems as a whole helps companies improve and optimise processes and applications so that potential impacts are controlled and not simply moved from one part of the lifecycle to another.

Current work, in partnership with the UN Environment Programme, as well as the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry and leading academics, is advancing models and policies for assessing lifecycle impact.

As well as the obvious benefits for environment and health, this type of tool can add business value.

Rio Tinto, for example, conducted an assessment on the sulphuric acid it sells as a by-product of its copper smelting process at Kennecott mine in Utah, USA. Kennecott is the largest producer of sulphuric acid in the country and its smelter captures 99.9% of the sulphur dioxide emissions produced. The study included the mine and the process. From the results, Cargill-Dow LLC determined that the sulphuric acid met its ‘green’ criteria for producing bio-based polymers and established a contract to purchase it.

Members are encouraged to build stronger relationships with downstream companies, commodity associations and governments.

Through the ongoing Metals Environment Risk Assessment Guidance and Health Risk Assessment Guidance projects, ICMM and major commodity associations, with backing from the UK Government, are developing guidance for policy makers in companies to assess and manage any effects that
minerals and metal products may have.

Making the most of the production and application of minerals and metals in eco-efficient ways.

Put simply, this means ‘doing more with less’. Mitsubishi Materials, for example, is increasing the use of recycled content at its facilities, including the Naoshima smelter and refinery in Japan. The company is processing recycled shredder dust and fly ash, as well as making efforts to recycle metals from household appliances – so called ‘urban mining’. Often these efforts result in decreased energy and associated greenhouse gas emissions.

Finally, members are advised to contribute openly to a base of information to support decision making. This ensures that lessons are not lost and that maximum benefit is gained from other activities. The ICMM is beginning to coordinate sharing of high quality materials risk assessment data with governments that are part of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development to assist in better international policy making.

Sustainable development

This approach is part of a wider commitment, which has seen the adoption of a ‘Sustainable Development Framework’ and operational guidance covering issues ranging from community development and engagement with indigenous peoples, to minesite health and safety. Members are committed to implementation and independent assurance against a set of indicators agreed through consultation.

The general approach benefits all. Global population growth and lifestyle changes are leading to an increasing demand for minerals and metals. The environmental and socio-economic impacts of large-scale mining means it is important for materials to be harvested, extracted, produced, used, recovered and reused in ways that minimise harm and maximise value.

Further information: ICMM