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Circular Wonderings is an exploration of the role of digital, software and technology in the Circular Economy. Exploration is the key word here. I write regularly, reflecting on my current thoughts and research. Expect typos, incomplete thoughts, varied rambling topics and (hopefully) a journey towards clearer understanding and insight. Subscribe here to join my journey.

Tailing Disaster

On January 25th, 2019, a 10-meter tall wave traveling 120 km/h, washed 10 million m3 of mining waste from the Brumadinho tailings dam over the Brazilian countryside killing somewhere between 270 and 320 people.

This was a manmade disaster, made from mining the materials we use daily. Every copper wire in your house, steel frame in an EV, or any modern appliance comes from mining [1].

As a result of this disaster, the Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management2 was launched.

"The Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management strives to achieve the ultimate goal of zero harm to people and the environment with zero tolerance for human fatality" [2]

Anyone familiar with my obsession (er, healthy passion) for the Circular Economy is now expecting me to talk about how we need to reduce the demand for virgin materials - thus reducing the need for this type of mining. We can do that by thoughtfully designing our products and businesses to both reduce the raw material needed and keep that material in use.

And yes, I can't help but make that point.

However, the reality is that we are likely to see an increase in some forms of mining to facilitate the electrification of the transport and energy systems. So, while it is 100% true that we need a circular economy to slow (and eventually reduce) our need for virgin materials, that alone is not enough.

There is opportunity in this waste too.

Natural Resources Canada estimated that there is $10B in total metal value in Canadian gold mining waste.

Rio Tinto has discovered lithium at a concentration higher than other U.S. projects under development in more than 90 years’ worth of tailings from a single mine.

And UBC's professor Greg Dipple, has researched a process in which tailings naturally draws CO₂ from the air and traps it.

Are these opportunities viable? I have no idea. But perhaps a mindset of looking for value in our waste will do more than open the door for new opportunities. Perhaps it will be another way to avoid man made disasters.