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.
- Decision on the criteria for the classification of waste facilities
- Decision on technical guidelines for establishing the financial guarantee
- Decision on technical requirements for waste characterisation
- Decision on the definition of inert waste
- Decision on the harmonisation and regular transmission of information and questionnaire
- Implementing decision laying down technical guidelines for inspections
In 2018, the Commission published a report on the implementation of the Extractive Waste Directive.
Guidance documents and guidelines
- Study supporting the development of general guidance on the implementation of the Extractive Waste Directive
- Guidelines for Mine Closure Activities and Calculation and Periodic Adjustment of Financial Guarantees
- Find out more about the elaboration of guidelines for best risk management approaches in the extractive sector
- Guidance document on non-energy mineral extraction activities in Natura 2000 protected areas and case studies
- Best Available Techniques reference document - Management of Waste from Extractive Industries in accordance with Directive 2006/21/EC (MWEI BREF)
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
- 21 February 2020Adoption of Decision on technical guidelines for inspections
- 30 April 2009Adoption of Decision on technical requirements for waste characterisation and Decision on the definition of inert waste
- 29 April 2009Adoption of Decision on the harmonisation and regular transmission of the information and the questionnaire
- 20 April 2009Adoption of Decision on technical guidelines for establishing financial guarantee and Decision on the criteria for classification of waste facilities
- 1 May 2006Extractive Waste Directive enters into force
- Study supporting the elaboration of guidance on best practices in the extractive waste management plans
- Final report - development of standardization methods for waste characterisation
- Final report - assessment of EU countries implementation of the Extractive Waste Directive
- Report on the provision and elaboration of information for the preparation of the implementation report on the Extractive Waste Directive
- Study on the implementation report for the Extractive Waste Directive
- Study on the establishment of guidelines for the inspection of mining waste facilities, inventory and rehabilitation of abandoned facilities and review of the BREF document
- Study on the impacts of gold extraction in the EU
- Report on the classification of mining waste facilities
- Guidelines on financial guarantees and inspections for mining waste facilities
- Study on the management of mining, quarrying and ore-processing waste in the EU
- Study on the costs of improving the management of mining waste
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.
Main law: Extractive Waste Directive
Entry into force: 1 May 2006
Related topics: ChemicalsCircular economyWaste and recycling
Related strategies: Circular economy action plan
Related Commission priorities: European Green Deal
For questions about EU environmental policy, please contact Europe Direct.