Skip to main content

Mining waste

EU rules aim to ensure that mining waste is properly managed to avoid damaging the environment.


Mining waste is one of the largest waste streams in the EU. It can contain large quantities of dangerous substances.

Mining waste comes from extracting and processing mineral resources. It includes materials such as topsoil overburden (which are removed to gain access to mineral resources), and waste rock and tailings (after the extraction of the valuable mineral).


Some of this waste is inert and unlikely to damage the environment. However, mining waste can also contain large quantities of dangerous substances, such as heavy metals. Extracting and processing metals and metal compounds can result in acid or alkaline drainage.

In addition, tailings management is risky, and often involves residual processing chemicals and elevated levels of metals. Tailings are often stored in heaps or in large ponds surrounded by a dam. These can collapse, with disastrous consequences and a lasting impact on human health, the economy and the environment.

Properly managing mining waste will also ensure the long-term stability of disposal facilities. It will prevent or minimise water and soil pollution arising from acid or alkaline drainage and the leaching of heavy metals.


EU rules aim to prevent or reduce any adverse effects on the environment due to the management of mining waste.


In 2018, the Commission published a report on the implementation of the Extractive Waste Directive.

Guidance documents and guidelines

Standards mandated by the Commission

  • EN 15875:2011 Characterization of waste - Static test for determination of acid potential and neutralisation potential of sulfidic waste
  • CEN/TR 16363:2012 Characterization of waste - Kinetic testing for assessing acid generation potential of sulfidic waste from extractive industries
  • CEN/TR 16376:2012 Characterization of waste - Overall guidance document for characterization of waste from extractive industries
  • CEN/TS 16229:2011 Characterization of waste - Sampling and analysis of weak acid dissociable cyanide discharged into tailings ponds
  • CEN/TR 16365:2012 Characterization of waste - Sampling of waste from extractive industries


Key dates related to EU policy on mining waste

  1. 21 February 2020
    Adoption of Decision on technical guidelines for inspections
  2. 30 April 2009
    Adoption of Decision on technical requirements for waste characterisation and Decision on the definition of inert waste
  3. 29 April 2009
    Adoption of Decision on the harmonisation and regular transmission of the information and the questionnaire
  4. 20 April 2009
    Adoption of Decision on technical guidelines for establishing financial guarantee and Decision on the criteria for classification of waste facilities
  5. 1 May 2006
    Extractive Waste Directive enters into force


January 2018: Workshop on financial guarantees

A workshop on financial guarantees in the field of extractive waste management was organised by the European Commission. Presentations are available here.

Related links

Main law: Extractive Waste Directive

Entry into force: 1 May 2006

Related topics:  Chemicals Circular economy Waste and recycling

Related strategies: Circular economy action plan

Related Commission priorities: European Green Deal


For questions about EU environmental policy, please contact Europe Direct.