The products that we provide – which include diamonds, copper, platinum group metals (PGMs), premium quality iron ore and metallurgical coal for steelmaking and nickel, with crop nutrients in development – are essential for the future of society, particularly as we strive to build a more sustainable, equitable and decarbonised world. Our copper is vital for renewable energy technologies including solar panels and wind turbines, and our PGMs are used in fuel cell electric vehicles.
Global demand for minerals and metals is expected to rise substantially in the coming decades to meet the challenge of climate change and a growing global population. As a company, we need to be able to provide the goods and services society needs to grow, including materials for construction and increased crop yields, while managing impacts and delivering positive social, economic and environmental outcomes.
This challenge of minimising negative impact is at the heart of the circular economy – a key area in the Healthy Environment pillar of our Sustainable Mining Plan – which is about minimising waste in all its forms and making the most of what we have, natural resources included. The circular economy advocates re-using, redesigning, sharing, repairing, refurbishing, re-manufacturing, and recycling – consuming fewer resources and using them for longer. Ultimately turning waste into a resource.
At a more fundamental level, the circular economy looks at creating new models for businesses to promote and incentivise efficiency.
One of the main ways in which we are applying the principles of the circular economy is in the management of materials – particularly through focusing on materials stewardship for long term stakeholder value – rather than the traditional approach of managing wastes as a cost and liability, which often overlooks the opportunity to create value.
We are developing a long-term approach to allow us to embed this thinking into how we plan and execute our activities.
With that in mind, we’d like to shine the spotlight onto our zero waste to landfill initiative taking place at our South Africa PGMs operations.
Zero waste to landfill: PGMs’ journey
In 2013, PGMs committed to eliminating sending waste to landfill by implementing waste reduction, re-use and recycling initiatives. In 2021 it achieved a 99.9% reduction in waste to landfill from the 2013 baseline. The total waste sent to landfill in 2021 was 22.42 tonnes, which represented a reduction from 22,000 tonnes on that 2013 baseline.
With this reduction, PGMs saved in excess of more than 503,053 tonnes of CO2 equivalent emitted. Focusing on the waste created at the end of life of products, it also embraced the concept of the circular economy to eliminate or repurpose ‘waste’ into new resources.
Once a product is no longer required, it is thrown away and, in most cases, ends up at a landfill site.
As well as the loss of useful material in the product itself, at the landfill site there is potential for soil and water pollution, while the decomposition processes release greenhouse gases, such as methane, which contribute to climate change.
In addition to supporting a healthy and clean environment, one of the key drivers of the zero waste to landfill project is alignment with the South African Waste Management Strategy and the goal of moving up the waste management hierarchy. PGMs mapped all their waste streams, and categorised them as reduce, re-use or recycle.
From the implementation of this project, there were five key lessons learned that all businesses can benefit from:
- Ensuring alignment with a company’s work to the systemic transformation of the country it operates in is crucial. The circular economy cannot be achieved by companies working in isolation – rather it benefits from collaboration amongst multiple stakeholders and an aligned vision driven from government leadership.
- Trustworthy data is key. You cannot reduce or change if you do not know what you have. During its programme, PGMs took the opportunity to improve the way they measure waste data, so that they could set operation-specific strategies and targets towards achieving our overarching zero waste to landfill ambition. In 2021, Anglo American focused on creating those baseline waste stream inventories at a global level. So now we know what our starting point is and we can drive the required behaviours and make the most impactful investment choices.
- The circular economy is all about behaviour. To be successful, employees and customers need to change the way they perceive and behave around waste. For Anglo American, employee engagement and community awareness campaigns were fundamental for success. To get everyone on board, PGMs needed to motivate a mind shift towards valuing waste as a resource. A useful tactic was to appoint a ‘waste champion’ in each of the participating sites to help address immediate opportunities for waste management improvements, and to audit and review waste management fa They recognised and rewarded those operations and employees that performed the best.
- Collaborate and partner. 2018 was a turning point for the programme when it partnered with a specialist waste company to develop and implement sustainable solutions for management of various operational non-mineral waste streams. Companies should partner with waste specialists to minimise their waste but also to find off takers that will benefit from an economy of scale. The company can help find solutions to difficult waste streams, and even other companies that could use what your company would send to landfill.
- Work with communities. PGMs’ collecting, sorting and recycling initiatives also benefit and work in conjunction with local communities – for example, supplying wood pallets for manufacturing of furniture by a local community business, donating bicycles that assist communities in collecting recyclables to be taken to the recycling hub, job opportunities for on-site waste management and sorting as well as improving waste awareness through various community based campaigns. By providing people with a source of income in this way, we are giving back to our host communities.
Looking ahead, PGMs will continue to implement their sustainable waste programme to ensure that no waste is sent to landfill.
To do this, they will continue to proactively engage with stakeholders, and develop further community waste management projects to improve awareness and a healthy sustainable environment for future generations.
Finally, the difficult part is not reaching zero waste to landfill but eventually eliminating waste on its entirety. That’s where we’re heading.