New rules must reconcile mining with environment

The Commission must listen to Parliament's demands on banning cyanide, says Davor Škrlec.

Davor Škrlec | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual

By Davor Škrlec

13 Feb 2017

Mining waste represents 30 per cent of the total waste volume generated in the EU. The circular economy needs to tackle this problem from a life-cycle perspective. The waste framework directive has already paved the way for establishing a level playing field, which is crucial for the establishment of a secondary raw materials market.

Technological developments vary between the member states. Waste in one member state could be considered a valuable resource in another. Therefore, we must develop harmonised criteria across the EU to foster the prolongation of certain materials' shelf life.

I welcome the best available techniques reference document (BREF) that is being developed by the Commission, since there have been significant technological advances since the mining waste directive saw the light of day. This document should take into account the circular economy.


I urge the Commission to make an effort to better implement the circular economy principles, because this is where the safe and sustainable 'closing of the loop' matters the most.

The best example is the cyanide ban requested by Parliament in 2010 resolution. Back then, the Commission was trying to convince MEPs that there was no suitable replacement for cyanide in gold mining, and that the ban would lead to the discontinuation of gold mining. 

Even now, during the exchange of views on our report, the Commission insisted that the use of cyanide was safe, as long as the directive is respected.

Still, the environmental risks remain high, especially because member states have significant problems transposing the mining waste directive. Recent studies show that using non-toxic corn starch can replace cyanide in gold mining, and can even be even more efficient when extracting gold. 

I do not understand how the Commission got it so wrong on the reporting system. There can be no room for interpretation in the member states' reporting obligations, because environmental and health impacts in the aftermath of disasters are always crystal clear. 

Reporting needs to be transparent, in order to provide a full picture of the implementation in the European Union, therefore allowing quality monitoring and consequently, better implementation of the directive. 

The EU should be responsible and ethical, and make it clear that displacement effects are unacceptable. We cannot displace our problems and burden developing and emerging countries, while forbidding the same issues in the Union.

We should all seize this moment and make an effort to improve the implementation of the mining waste directive. In particular, we should focus on improving data reporting and monitoring before the third reporting stage provided by the directive. 

The Commission must develop guidelines on the inspection and revision of the reporting questionnaire. A ban on cyanide mining technologies is a sharp-cut request from 2010, which Parliament is now reiterating. MEPs expect a better answer from the Commission.

The EU has decided to set up a circular economy; now is the time for the Commission to point the implementation of the mining waste directive in that direction and reconcile mining with the environment.


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