Material Topic: Sustainable resource usage

What is a circular economy?

A circular economy goes beyond the current extract-use-dispose industrial model to create circular systems that gain the maximum value from resources by recovering and reusing materials at the end of each service life.

SDG 12: Responsible consumption and production

SDG 12 is one of Boliden’s prioritized Sustainable Development Goals that involves ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns. The goal is closely related to the circular use of materials and the circular economy.

The circularity gap

According to the 2018 Circularity Gap Report by Circle Economy, only 9% of the resources used globally are recycled back into the economy after use. The report argues this leaves a massive ‘circularity gap’ that must be closed to prevent further and accelerated environmental degradation and social inequality.

Boliden contributes towards a circular economy

As a sustainability leader in the metals and mining sector, Boliden clearly has a role to play in meeting the societal need for metals as sustainably as possible by ensuring that waste materials are reused.

Boliden promotes more circular resource use

Boliden has created value from waste for many years – long before the term circular economy was coined. Examples include being one of Europe’s largest recyclers of used lead-acid batteries, benefiting from decades-long resource-effective industrial synergies, and continuously finding innovative new ways of creating value from our own waste materials.

The benefits of circular resource use

Ensuring society’s waste materials are safely reused reduces the amount of virgin materials that need to be extracted and processed. This can also help to decrease lifecycle energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, and can ensure potentially hazardous substances are dealt with properly. Reusing waste also often makes financial sense for Boliden and its partners by converting or recovering valuable materials from waste.

The recyclability of metals

Metals can be recycled repeatedly without altering their properties. Metals are also valuable, which makes complex recovery and recycling processes profitable and worthwhile. Boliden uses a variety of consumer and industrial metal waste as raw materials. Waste materials are also exchanged between Boliden’s smelters with different capabilities when it comes to recovering and recycling certain metals from waste in order to optimize metal extraction.

Electronic waste recycling at Rönnskär

Boliden’s Rönnskär copper smelter in Sweden has recycled various waste materials since the 1960s and is today one of the largest re­cyclers of metal from electronic material in the world. The smelter’s annual capacity for recycling electrical material is 120,000 tonnes, including circuit boards from computers and mobile phones that are sourced primarily from Europe.

Processing hazardous waste from the steel industry at Odda

Boliden’s Odda zinc smelter in Norway has recycled waelz oxide ­filter powder from the scrap steel recycling industry since 2008. The smelter produces 15,000 to 20,000 tonnes of zinc each year from waelz oxide filter powder, which is a hazardous waste.

Recycling lead scrap at Bergsöe

The Boliden Bergsöe smelter in Sweden recycles the lead from 4 million lead-acid batteries each year. The recycled lead is mainly sold to European battery manufacturers, where it is used to produce new batteries. A plastic separation plant will be commissioned in 2019 to recover the plastic from battery casings, which will then be re-used to manufacture new battery casings.

Successful trials to create value from jarosite residue at Kokkola

Boliden is constantly innovating to find new uses for waste materials. The Boliden Kokkola zinc smelter in Finland has conducted promising trials to recover valuable metals from potentially hazardous jarosite iron residue. Boliden’s trials have successfully processed the residue to recover valuable zinc, silver and lead. A clean slag with a wide variety of potential construction applications, such as in road construction, has also been produced in cooperation with research partners.

Pioneering manganese recovery research

Anode sludge containing manganese oxide is a common by-product in zinc production that is typically landfilled as it cannotcurrently be processed to extract the valuable manganese. Boliden Kokkola has, however, succeeded in extracting the manganese from the waste, which has great potential for use in products such as fertilizers, as an additive in the steel industry or as a precursor material for lithium-ion batteries.

It is of vital importance to Boliden that we develop the by-product business along with the metals business. The largest by-product by volume is sulfuric acid, which is sold for industrial use. Slag-based products, such as ‘iron sand’ from the Rönnskär processes, are another example of Boliden by-products, and one where the raw material comprises slag from copper production. The slag is purified and granulated into a black coarse-grained glassy material, which is very suitable for use as a filler in road and building construction. The use of iron sand reduces the extraction of gravel and sand from nature. The iron sand from Rönnskär is CE marked, which means that Boliden has drawn up procedures for assuring the quality of both the production process and product handling, e.g. for storage and shipping. During 2018, the chemical composition of the iron sand has been adjusted to fulfil the new Specific Concentration Limits in REACH to be a sellable product, without the need for transport and user instructions for hazardous goods. This is another step in Boliden’s efforts to have iron sand classified as a product that conforms to the ideas of the circular economy.