Why it matters
Managing waste from our operations in a way that minimizes the impact on the surrounding environment reduces costs along with regulatory and reputational risk. We are committed to an overall reduction of our environmental impact by creating and implementing stewardship systems across our operations and communities.
Our work on waste, tailings, and more supports the following United Nations Sustainable Development Goals
Waste & tailings approach
In support of Nutrien’s Safety, Health and Environment (“SHE”) Policy, our Global Waste Minimization Standard communicates non-mining waste management requirements for all Nutrien operating segments and locations. Each site must conduct a biennial non-mining waste review and use it to develop a site-specific waste minimization strategy, considering, in order of preference, reduction, reuse and recycling of materials.
Since mining activities can generate large volumes of tailings and waste, we pay special attention to the management of our Potash and Phosphate operations. Our tailings management areas (“TMAs”) and gypstacks (stockpiles of phosphogypsum from phosphoric acid production) comply with applicable laws, regulations and environmental standards.
At the end of 2022, all of our North American manufacturing, retail and corporate sites have completed their initial waste reviews as required by Nutrien’s Global Waste Minimization Standard and have implemented strategies best suited to reducing waste at their locations.
The amount of waste and other materials generated can vary from year to year due to production and projects that include construction, demolitions, turnarounds and clean-ups.
The hazardous waste we generate in our manufacturing operations includes, but is not limited to, waste chemicals, solvents, paint and spent catalyst. In order to manage hazardous waste properly, we work with our waste management suppliers to verify that the materials are transported, treated, and recycled or disposed according to applicable regulatory requirements.
Our non-mining non-hazardous waste typically consists of certain process wastes, and construction and demolition debris such as scrap metal, concrete, bricks and wood. Municipal waste, paper, cardboard and plastic are also common waste materials. We pursue waste-reduction and reuse opportunities first and then recycle when possible. However, there are commodity and geographical constraints that are prohibitive for certain materials and/or locations.
Plastic is an ideal material for packaging our crop protection and seed products because it is inert (it doesn’t react with our products), lightweight and cost effective. We understand the growing global concern with single-use plastics, strengthened by the recent Single-use Plastics Prohibition Regulations in Canada, and are exploring ways to either reduce plastic packaging or increase its reuse and recycling.
In 2022, we developed a global waste management strategy for our Nutrien Ag Solutions operations with a focus on our largest non-hazardous waste, which is plastic chemical containers and totes. To inform the strategy, a cross-functional working group evaluated waste management best practices, peers and recycling partners. Improved data collection and analytics was identified as a necessary next step for benchmarking before a waste target can be set for Nutrien Ag Solutions.
Nutrien is a member of the Ag Containers Recycling Council (“ACRC”) with the purpose of increasing recycling of agrichemical plastics and to support the responsible end of life management of industry containers. The ACRC has recycling programs with thousands of farmer and applicator participants nationwide.
100 percent of our Nutrien Ag Solutions locations participated in a plastic recycling program. As a result, 70 percent of our crop protection and plant nutrition proprietary brands sold in 2022 were shipped using large returnable containers. In support of this we own more than 98,000 reusable drums and participate in a drum leasing program to further minimize the total number of product containers in circulation across the country. We continue to explore the possibility of using reusable containers that have been made from recycled plastics. We also actively participate in the drumMUSTER program.
over 80 percent of our Nutrien Ag Solutions locations participated in an industry-wide program called Cleanfarms that collects a variety of used agricultural packaging. In 2022, over 10,700 pesticide and fertilizer one-way drums and totes were recycled from Nutrien locations through Cleanfarms. Additionally, nearly 485,000 pesticide and fertilizer jugs, totaling approximately 170,000 kilograms of plastic, were recycled from Nutrien locations across the country. Nutrien also participates in Cleanfarms program for seed, pesticide and inoculant bags and returned nearly 5,500 kilograms of this material for energy recovery.
Nutrien is switching from using single-use bulk bags for storage and transportation of seed products to reusable seed boxes for employee safety, customer convenience and waste reduction. Large, single-use plastic bags are commonly used to store and transport seed but create a waste stream and pose a safety risk. The transition to the boxes is expected to take about three years to deploy across our North American retail operations. Learn more
We have six active potash mines with tailings management systems. Potash tailings, consisting primarily of clay and salt, are byproducts of the potash mining process. Although clay and brine (salt solution) are non-hazardous, there is a potential negative environmental impact if brine spills onto soil (reduces productivity) or into fresh surface or ground water (impacts water salinity levels). We sell small quantities of salt for winter road application, but the majority is stored in tailings management areas (“TMAs”) or injected via solution into provincially licensed and approved deep wells.
TMAs consist of engineered containment facilities designed to store solid tailings and brine. The TMAs, licensed and approved by provincial regulatory authorities, are equipped with instrumentation that monitors key parameters and allows us to evaluate stable performance.
At each mine site, there are environmental staff who manage the day-to-day compliance and surveillance needs of the tailings management systems. At the corporate level, Nutrien has dedicated engineering groups, an ERM group and a centralized SHE group that support risk assessment and auditing of these facilities. We also hire third parties with expertise in engineering, construction and decommissioning activities to support us as we develop, implement and maintain our tailings management systems safely.
Tailings management includes safe storage:
Tailings and brine ponds: We protect surrounding water bodies and aquifers by building containment appropriate for each storage pond, typically consisting of engineered dykes, engineered slurry-walls or compacted earth trench barriers. Areas surrounding tailings ponds are also closely monitored with routine inspections, investigations and tracking of surrounding environmental conditions.
Tailings piles: We separate the liquid from the solids through gravity drainage. Tailings are stored in piles that are closely monitored through routine inspections, investigations and examinations of surrounding environmental conditions. The salt in the piles dissolves over time through natural rainfall events. Excess liquid, or saturated brine, that is not reused in the production process is injected in deep wells into brackish (that is, non-fresh) water aquifers that are deeper than one kilometer beneath the ground surface. This process is conducted under regulatory oversight and approvals. Learn more in Nutrien’s Tailings Safety Disclosure.
Phosphate fertilizer is produced by reacting sulfuric acid with phosphate rock to produce phosphoric acid (liquid fertilizer), a portion of which is then reacted with ammonia to produce granulated ammonium phosphate fertilizer (granulated fertilizer). This process also produces phosphogypsum at a finished product ratio of approximately five to one.
Phosphogypsum is primarily composed of hydrated calcium sulfate but it may also contain trace metals and naturally occurring radioactive materials that were originally in the phosphate rock. In North America, phosphogypsum is primarily stored in engineered stacks referred to as phosphogypsum stacks or gypstacks. Wastewater from the gypstacks is decanted and reused in the production process. As part of the requirements to operate gypstack systems, we conduct routine groundwater monitoring and inspections, and maintain and comply with applicable environmental permits such as air, solid waste, and National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System. To maintain the stability of gypstacks, they are constructed, operated and closed in accordance with applicable engineering standards and regulatory requirements. Typically, a third-party engineer develops gypstack construction and closure designs, operating plans and performs annual inspections. At closure, long-term management plans for gypstacks are implemented per regulatory requirements, including completion of groundwater monitoring and reporting.
Nutrien has two active Phosphate fertilizer operations, located in Aurora, NC and White Springs, FL. Nutrien also has four inactive phosphogypsum stacks at facilities in Conda, ID, Geismar, LA, Redwater, AB, and Fort Saskatchewan, AB that have been closed or are undergoing closure.
Phosphogypsum can potentially be reused for a variety of applications in construction or agriculture. However, Nutrien does not currently reuse phosphogypsum on a commercial scale, other than for agricultural purposes out of our White Springs, FL location, primarily because US EPA regulations restrict the use of phosphogypsum. At White Springs, phosphogypsum that meets applicable regulatory standards is sold to farmers for use as a soil amendment, thus reducing the gypstack footprint requiring closure. This product use is authorized by the rules of the US EPA and is consistent with the facility’s permits from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Phosphogypsum is safely recycled for use in many other areas of the world. Reuse of phosphogypsum for alternate purposes could reduce the environmental footprint and liabilities associated with gypstack closure if permitted from a regulatory perspective.
Since mining activities can generate large volumes of tailings and waste, we pay special attention to the management of our potash and phosphate operations. Our tailings piles are in compliance with applicable laws, regulations and environmental standards.
Our operations generate emissions of carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulfur dioxide (SO2), particulates, volatile organic compounds (“VOCs”), and ammonia from process and combustion emission sources. Nutrien continues to look for opportunities to reduce emissions through continuous improvement in plant reliability and changes in operation or physical emission control upgrades during plant expansions and modifications. In 2021 and 2022, we completed equipment upgrades at two Canadian nitrogen facilities with lower-NOx alternatives.
The reclamation process is important to our mining operations. Nutrien has a legal obligation to reclaim land used for operations and return it to a beneficial use. We work with environmental authorities to verify that land is properly restored post-mining, using local and native plant varieties. This can often support efforts to increase biodiversity.
Asset retirement obligations
Each year, we estimate the cost and timing of future environmental obligations, including gypstack closure and land reclamation expenditures. At the end of 2022, our discounted asset retirement obligations (“AROs”) were $1.2 billion. For phosphate sites, the majority of these costs are expected to be paid over the next 18 years, while costs for potash are expected to be paid after that time. We have spent $170 million towards our AROs over the last two years.
Nutrien’s Phosphate operations are currently mining at a combined rate of approximately 895 acres per year, and we reclaim land continuously as our mining operations progress. In the past three years, we have successfully returned more than 3,500 acres of land back to productive use after phosphate rock mining:
- At our Aurora, NC Phosphate operation, we stack phosphogypsum and also use a portion to reclaim adjacent mined lands as permitted by regulatory authorities. We have pioneered a land reclamation process that has earned state and national awards over the years.
- At our White Springs, FL Phosphate mine, we strive to reclaim more land than we mine on an annual basis.
A few examples of our remediation work are:
- North Maybe Mine, ID: We recommend placing a geosynthetic cap system over 80 acres on an overburden pile. The overburden pile was originally created as part of a legacy phosphate mining operation from a predecessor company in the 1980s. We will follow the regulatory process to prepare, and receive approval for, the final design and expect to complete the remedial action by 2025. We expect the remediated site to return the area to a stable, vegetated condition. We completed a similar project for the South Maybe Mine, ID in 2017 that resulted in a hundredfold reduction of selenium concentrations in surface water and earned Nutrien an Environmental Excellence Award from the American Exploration and Mining Association.
- Geismar: Nutrien has been actively closing the gypstack system at our former Phosphate operations in Geismar, LA. The project includes stack capping, wastewater treatment and reducing phosphate discharges to the Mississippi River in accordance with discharge permit limitations.
- Cassidy Lake, NB: Nutrien’s Cassidy Lake Potash mine in New Brunswick, Canada was closed in 1997 and has been an active remediation site since. At the end of 2022, we successfully removed the surface tailings pile, and have progressed the tailings management closure plans for the site.
Taking action: building forests from phosphogypsum
Typically, phosphogypsum stack (gypstack) reclamation involves contouring the piles, covering them with soil and seeding them to a grass mixture. However, we have found that trees grow extremely well in phosphogypsum at our Fort Saskatchewan, AB site.
In mid-2022, reclamation work began on a new 58-acre area consisting of two remaining legacy gypstacks and a phosphate cooling pond. Water was pumped out and the pond was filled with gypsum from the nearby stacks. In spring 2023, we plan to plant approximately 23,000 hybrid poplar trees. This project demonstrates the site’s proactive environmental efforts and continues to contribute to the overall goal of turning the site from a historically unusable area into a productive forest. Learn more. This new project adds to our 44 acres of thriving and healthy forests that have replaced visually unappealing gypstacks and cooling ponds. Since 2015, the cooling ponds have been filled with phosphogypsum, topped with a layer of topsoil and tilled. At the end of 2021, nearly 41,000 trees had been successfully planted. The site is also home to a large garden and two honeybee hives. We have observed an improvement in soil and groundwater quality and an increase in wildlife.