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June 19, 2011 6:55 PM CDT

Anglo American Gypsum Turns Mining Waste Into Bricks

Bricks to build affordable homes


Anglo American - long-listed for the Guardian Sustainable Business waste and recycling award. Photograph: Alamy

Anglo American - long-listed for the Guardian Sustainable Business waste and recycling award. Photograph: Alamy
In a country where jobs and housing are in short supply, a water reclamation plant is turning mining waste into low cost homes.

Anglo American's eMalahleni plant in Mpumalanga province, South Africa, purifies waste water from five mines and turns it into drinking water for local people.

But that's just one strand. The waste produced from this process – 200 tonnes of gypsum a day – is being made into bricks to build homes that will enable workers moving away from mine villages to buy affordable homes.

The plant is the first of its kind in the mining industry. It recovers 99.5% of its water and provides 80,000 people with drinking water, meeting 20% of their daily needs and those of the five mines.

Mining operations generate mineral and non-mineral waste. Traditionally, non-mineral waste has gone into landfill, but the gypsum from this plant alone could provide up to 7,000 homes a year.

Last year Anglo American's Zimele communities fund helped set up enterprises to manufacture bricks and build the homes. The production process is the same as standard brick-making but half the sand or cement is replaced with gypsum. Gypsum brick houses cost less to build and each produces three tonnes less CO2.

Local contractors built 66 three-bedroom homes almost entirely from gypsum-based materials and the first residents moved in at the end of 2010. Another 300 homes will be built in 2011.

It took 15 years of research by Anglo American to investigate uses of waste gypsum and conclude that the greatest potential was in building materials.

The plant aims to produce zero waste, a move which will mean big cuts in running costs. It is designed to be run as a social or commercial enterprise that will continue meeting local peoples' water needs and the gypsum bricks will help safeguard its future.

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