Copper: a success story in sustainable water management

Indispensable for the functioning of the copper industry

Water is a critical resource for mining and metal production processes, and the copper industry is very aware of the impact of its operations on the environment, including water consumption. 

Copper mining is often located in areas exposed to lack of water, which makes saving water a necessity. Our industry plays an important role in addressing global water-related challenges and we are committed to achieving the UN’s sustainable development goal 2015 to ensure the sustainable use and management of water.

In recent decades, the copper industry has made significant efforts to reduce its environmental impact and minimize its traceability throughout the entire value chain, and for this purpose some copper mining companies have prepared projects to restore ecosystems after mining. Copper Alliance companies have developed innovative purification processes, both to reduce the amount of wastewater and to ensure that they meet the required quality standards before they are directed to streams, rivers and coastal waters. 
Currently, member companies of Copper Alliance, process over 3 billion m3 of water every year, which largely exceeds the amount of water consumed.

Sewage treatment in Europe

The European copper industry has long invested in innovative solutions for water treatment to ensure the safety of water discharges and compliance with stringent EU requirements and local permits. It meets the highest standards in the field of environmental protection and safety, going beyond the applicable EU and local requirements.

Industrial water is used in the copper industry for various purposes, including direct and indirect cooling, waste transport, flotation, slag granulation and electrolysis. Copper Alliance members use the best available wastewater treatment techniques (as defined by the European Commission), which ensure that dissolved metals and solids are effectively removed. In addition, the purified water is increasingly reused, which significantly reduces the consumption of fresh water and further protects the environment and reduces the use of natural resources.

The most innovative processes of wastewater treatment used by member companies at various stages of copper production (mining, metallurgy and refining, semi-manufacturing) include the following two examples:

KGHM Żelazny Most 

This is the largest waste disposal plant in Europe, which is able to store 657 million m3 of residues (tailings) remaining after copper ore enrichment. It is one of the most modern and best-kept facilities of this type in the world, having implemented a safe and effective waste management program, which means that the water discharged to the Oder meets the strictest standards of cleanliness. After completion of the current expansion works, it will be able to store 950 million m3 of waste by 2038. More

Aurubis

European leader in the field of copper recycling, invested 6.3 million euros in the opening of a 230 m3 / hr rainwater treatment plant at the Pirdop production installation in Bulgaria, becoming one of the few facilities in the EU that have combined three treatment plants (industrial, domestic and rain). The latest technology used in the plant allows the quality of discharged water to be fully compliant with the best available techniques (BAT) in the EU. More

More information on the results of the copper industry in the field of water management can be found in the Sustainable Development Indicators, a comprehensive list of data measuring the contribution of our member companies to achieving the UN goals in the field of sustainable development.