Safety First: Guidelines for Responsible Mine Tailings Management

This document, published jointly by Earthworks (USA) and MiningWatch Canada, outlines guidelines for safety, respect for affected communities, and corporate accountability that must be incorporated into any tailings standards or regulations. Please see this page for related materials – maps, summaries, and infographics, as well as the related news release and supporting quotes.

Current industry standards, including the draft of the Global Tailings Standard released in 2019, do not go far enough to adequately protect communities and ecosystems from failures. They often lack clear and mandatory technical guidelines to move away from technologies and practices that present too much risk, as is done in other industries. There must be significant changes made to the current practices in design, construction, operation and closure of tailings facilities.

This document is not intended to replace regulations or serve as a comprehensive standard itself. Any standard, regulation or guideline that does not respond to all the guidelines in this document is insufficient. Additionally, there may be circumstances under which a tailings facility can meet all the guidelines below, but should not be built or continue in operation.

This document also recognizes that the safest tailings facility is the one that is not built. We must look for ways of reducing the amount of tailings produced, as well as reducing the overall demand for primary raw minerals to avoid the long-term liability of mine waste sites and their social and environmental impacts. World production has already increased 2- to 10-fold for various minerals over the last 40 years. During the same period, ore grades have declined on average by half for many of those minerals, effectively doubling the volume of mine waste tailings generated for each unit of mineral produced. According to the World Bank and Australia’s Institute for Sustainable Futures, demand for mineral use specifically for the renewable energy transition is set to explode between now and 2050, with anticipated increases of up to 300 to 8000 percent for certain minerals, depending on the scenario.