Tiilikainen Kimmo – Is zero waste mining “Mission Impossible” or necessity to meet the material needs of the future?


Energy disruption and digitalization are driving forces to increase the need of metals in coming decades. Worries about security of supply of critical raw materials are rising worldwide. It offers huge opportunities for mining but at the same time threats value chains.

Simultaneously citizens requirements toward mining and related industry are tightening all over the world. Social license to operate is sometimes more difficult to achieve than the environmental permission according to the law.

The paradox is that the more we need metals in the future the higher ESG standards must be fulfilled to open new mines or re-mining old tailings or side rocks.

As a response to this development some companies or research institutes have set target: zero waste mining. This concept must be opened to avoid disappointment within citizens’ minds.

We have seen great development of emission reduction in many processing industries. In the future, especially in fragile environments, the same will be required of mine processing too. We have opportunities to do this part of zero waste mining. We have technologies to purify wastewater and remove hazardous chemicals out of tailings.

But does zero waste mining mean that we will not see tailings any more in the future? And how could we improve the material efficiency to find use for maximum amount of side rocks?

This kind of question must be studied seriously. GTK is geological research institute that is working with these issues. Designing out waste before opening the mine is becoming the most profitable way to mine in the future. Closed loops of mine waters help to save scarce water resources and avoid polluting wastewaters. Developing the processing may help to make tailings suitable for construction sector. To develop circular economy of minerals we must be able to separate and store different fractions in a way that enables the later use though we do not know that possible use at the moment.

To build the trust in citizens minds in more sustainable – or even zero waste – mining the sector needs examples of mines where ESG standards are risen to all new level. GTK is willing to co-operate with companies to find this kind of solutions.

Is zero waste mining_Tiilikainen


Kimmo Tiilikainen has been working as Director General at Geological Survey of Finland since beginning of June 2021. Previously he was involved in politics: he acted as a Member of Parliament for 16 years, held several ministerial positions, and for the last couple of years he was State Secretary on several ministries. 

Combining environment and economy is one of his guidelines both in work and private life, key elements being sustainability and circular economy. Kimmo Tiilikainen has worked towards these goals internationally. He was one of the EU’s Ministerial Negotiators of the Paris Agreement, and signed it on behalf of Finland in 2016. He was one of the facilitators in adaptation to climate change negotiations when Paris Rule Book was finalized in Katowice. As a Minister of Energy of Finland, he implemented Finnish climate policy by promoting both renewable energy as well as coal ban.