Towards a circular economy - tailings re-mining at Impala Rustenburg


Implats seeks to create a common understanding of the circular economy throughout the Group and identifies circular economy opportunities to benefit its operations and the communities which host them.

“Linear economy” thinking follows a “take-make-waste” model, where fossil fuels are used to make products, creating waste and pollution during their manufacture, and further waste and pollution on disposal at the end of their life. By contrast, a “circular economy” seeks a shift towards a more restorative cycle — a transition to renewable energy, zero-waste processes and product-recycling systems.

In the social context, circular economy initiatives can be combined with inclusive strategies to address unmet social needs by, for example, procuring and employing from mine-host communities, partnering with local companies and upskilling local SMMEs, among others.

Implats’ environment, social and governance (ESG) framework guides how we engage with communities, employees, the environment, customers and stakeholders. Our approach to the circular economy is to embed integrated thinking in the way that we do business. Our environmental strategy presents several opportunities for circular economy initiatives, and we identify inclusive opportunities within these projects.

To add to the Group’s existing waste recycling projects, our Impala Rustenburg operation began re-mining the tailings from its dormant tailings dams 1 and 2. Tailings re-mining presents Implats with a large-scale recycling opportunity – by processing the waste rock and tailings, the PGMs missed in the first processing phase are extracted in a low-risk and cost-effective way, reducing our environmental footprint and enabling us to rehabilitate the tailings dam at the same time.

The project began in March 2019, with re-mining taking place at a rate of 7 500 tonnes per day, ramping up to 10 000 tonnes a day. To date, the re-mining has recovered close to 30 000 low-risk, low-cost PGM ounces from just over 3.3 million tonnes of re-mined waste. The re-mining method is hydraulic and the water used is captured and recycled.

The re-mining project from these once-dormant tailings facilities is providing host-community beneficiation opportunities through a joint venture reclamation company established with the Luka community, our partner community.

The project has created 55 permanent jobs, most of which are held by mine-host community members. During peak construction periods there is an opportunity for an additional 35 to 70 jobs for local community members.

The life of the re-mining project is estimated at 12 years, during which time there will be a progressive removal of the tailings facility. Concurrent land rehabilitation is taking place, which also involves community members. On project completion, the land will be returned to the owner, the Royal Bafokeng Nation. The project frees up 82 hectares of land for alternate uses, eliminates dust pollution from the tailings dams, and Impala’s mine closure liabilities would have reduced.

The re-mining project is just one of Implats’ circular economy initiatives. We believe there must be an evolution of the way the world produces and consumes goods and services — to design out waste and pollution, while also restoring the world’s wilderness, building regenerative agricultural systems, using renewable materials and shifting to renewable energy sources.