Towards circular economy in the mining industry: implications of institutions on the drivers and barriers for tailings valorization: Master's thesis

    Research output: ThesisMaster's thesis


    The main objective of this thesis is to advance knowledge of circular economy business potential in the mining industry. Mining and metal companies have been almost totally lacking from the circular economy conversation. In the light of this gap, there is a clear need to understand the business potential for circular economy also in the mining and metals sector. The development of circular economy model for the mining industry has clear potential to solve the challenges related to the shortage of mineral resources, waste of resources and environmental pollution with subsequent economic profits. Metals are needed for modern applications to increase our standard of living e.g. in renewable energy production and high-tech products. Sustainable development goals of the United Nations for global economic development and environmental sustainability result in the wide utilization of various minerals for green technologies. In addition to economic and societal benefits, mining has produced significant amounts of mining and quarrying waste called tailings. Tailings have the potential to be transformed from hazardous waste to potentially valuable secondary metal sources. The valorization of mining waste could add to the raw materials supply, and subsequently reduce the environmental impact. Circular economy concepts can help to create value from mining waste. Institutions emerging via regulative, normative and cognitive processes have a huge effect on the behavior of corporations. Circular economy itself has been considered as an institution. Institutional theory suggests that uncertainty and innovation characterize a new field. Organizations tend to mimic the successful organizations to overcome the uncertainty. When the field is mature, almost all organizations in the field follow the same kinds of rules and structures. The utilization of circular economy concepts needs advancements in filling the knowledge gaps of business opportunities, drivers and barriers. The drivers, needs and barriers for tailings valorization in the mining industry were identified in the workshop and theme interviews in this study. The results pointed out, that there is clear potential for the tailings valorization in the long-term, even though this potential has remained underexplored. The identified opportunities and drivers were categorized under circular economy mindset, and technological, environmental, institutional and economic drivers. The needs were new value chains, technology development, a decrease in the amount of waste, stability, taxation and predictability of regulation. Challenges and bottlenecks were categorized under new value chains, technological, environmental, institutional, economic and knowledge bottlenecks. Identification of drivers and barriers could accelerate the transformation towards circular economy in the mining industry. By understanding the circular economy business potential for tailings valorization in the mining sector, the study provides support for designing and implementing circular business in the mining sector. Even though there are several institutional initiatives to move the mining industry from linear to circular economy, also barriers to such transformation exist. There is clear business potential for metals recovery from mining waste in the future, but the identified barriers need to be addressed both by companies and by institutional stakeholders to speed up the transformation. This thesis is based on the article “Towards circular economy in mining: Opportunities and bottlenecks for tailings valorization” by Kinnunen and Kaksonen (2019) published in the Journal of Cleaner Production and reprinted with permission from Elsevier in Appendix 3 in this thesis.
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationMaster Degree
    Awarding Institution
    • Tampere University
    • Pajunen, Kalle, Supervisor, External person
    • Heikkinen, Anna, Supervisor, External person
    • Ropo, Arja, Supervisor, External person
    Award date14 May 2019
    Publication statusPublished - 2019
    MoE publication typeG2 Master's thesis, polytechnic Master's thesis


    • circular economy
    • institutional theory
    • mining industry
    • waste valorization
    • tailings


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