Sustainability Factbook 2022

04 Resources are precious to us

According to UNICEF, 3.3 earths would be needed to keep up with consumption levels of the OECD and EU countries. This rate of resource use is clearly unsustainable. Moreover, the extraction, processing, and disposal of natural resources can have significant environmental impacts.

 

Our business activities rely on precious resources. We live up to our responsibility by improving our processes and products so that they require fewer and fewer resources and by adopting circular approaches wherever possible. This includes responsible waste management and disposal, and an environmentally conscious use of chemicals and water. Our commitment to conserving resources is reinforced by our recycling efforts, which help to keep precious metals within the cycle of use.

Targets and KPIs

23%

SHARE OF RECYCLED
gold and silver in
our plants in 2022

23% of gold and silver volume processed in our plants are secondary material. We aim to double the proportion of recycled precious metals in our products by 2027.

-98%*

Carbon Footprint of
recycled vs primary
Precious Metals

Many of our precious metal products are returned to us at the end of their lifetime. By making new products out of recycled fine metal, we are continuously keeping recovered precious metals in the loop.

*Based on: International Platinum Group Metals Association and GaBi database 2022

Recycling of precious metals

As part of our commitment to sustainable practices, we continue to promote a circular approach among our clients. Gold is as a prime example of the potential for circularity and an advocate for further efforts and innovation to increase recovery. We can currently recover over 99.8% of gold sent to us for refining.

Moreover, we are constantly improving our processes to maximize the retention of precious metals content. In cases where we are unable to proceed with certain materials, we send them to audited third parties for recovery. This ensures that no precious metals are wasted and promotes sustainability and resource-efficiency.

Water withdrawal

Water plays a central role in our production processes: for example, it is needed in the chemical and electrolytic reactions during precious metal refining and is indispensable for cooling the processing machinery.

Where we stand

We are committed to fostering sustainable practices across all operational areas, including water conservation. As we continue to analyze our water usage data in more detail, we aim to set concrete, measurable targets for further reductions in the coming years.

In 2022, our Mendrisio site registered a slight 2% increase in water withdrawal compared to 2021 as a result of increased business activities and raw material intake. In 2022 we began to closely analyze our water usage in order to identify possible projects for reducing water usage and recycling.

 

At our site in Hong Kong, we decreased our water withdrawal by 16% in 2022 compared to the previous year. This was achieved through various measures including a reduction in the amount of water used in the traditional refining process, an optimization of equipment efficiency and mindful water usage by employees.

 

Our non production facilities in Italy and Germany maintain modest water consumption rates, reflec­ting their non-industrial functions.

Water withdrawal

(cubic meters)

No Data Found

Chemicals usage

Chemicals are essential for processing precious metals. Their consumption is closely linked to production quantities and the matrix complexity of the incoming raw precious metals.

Where we stand

Argor-Heraeus is committed to the effective management and responsible use of the chemicals that we require for our processes.

We ensure the safe and responsible disposal of chemicals after use. We recognize the complexity of refining precious metals, such as gold, silver, platinum, and palladium. By prioritizing the use of efficient and environmentally friendly chemicals, we ensure high-quality results while maintaining a conscious approach to chemical usage.

Chemical products play a crucial role in the extraction and purification of precious metals to guarantee the highest standards of purity and quality. We refine gold, silver, platinum and palladium. Our main refining process for gold and silver relies on the use of hydrochloric and nitric acids. To neutralize the acid processing solutions we use caustic soda, which is an essential substance in our refining operations. Caustic soda acts as a vital agent in reducing harmful contaminants. In 2022, we observed a significant 7% increase in chemical product use at our Mendrisio site. This is mainly due to a significant increase in precious metal refining and the resulting higher demand for nitric acid. Moreover, the nitric acid available on the market was less concentrated than that which is usually used, requiring a larger quantity for the same efficiency.

 

Our Hong Kong site experienced a 14% decrease in the consumption of chemical products as a result of reduced intake of primary and secondary materials.

Waste management

At Argor-Heraeus, we acknowledge the importance of responsible waste management. Once materials have served their purpose, we adhere to strict standards and procedures for their disposal. Our waste management practices comply with rigorous legal requirements, ensuring safe and responsible waste disposal, including wastewater.

Where we stand

We recognize the importance of proper waste management to protect the environment.

Therefore, we have implemented stringent procedures to ensure the responsible disposal of various categories of waste.

 

We produce two main types of waste materials: special waste and generic waste. Our special waste encompasses various materials, including exhausted chemical solutions, wastewater (which may or may not contain residual precious metals) and oils. It therefore requires special disposal procedures. Our generic waste primarily originates from day-to day operations and the packaging materials that accompany our goods, and includes materials such as PET, wood, ferrous waste, and regular waste.

We strive to minimize our impact on the environment by implementing effective waste management practices and ensuring that waste is sorted, recycled or disposed of in accordance with local regulations. We opt for waste management companies that can recycle as many materials as possible to further reduce our environmental impact.

In Switzerland, we adhere to the regulations set forth by the Federal Department of the Environment, Transport, Energy, and Communications (DETEC). We have implemented specific measures to handle and appropriately dispose of waste products. By installing water dispensers in our buildings, we significantly reduced our PET waste by more than 50%.


In Hong Kong, our disposal processes align with the guidelines provided by the Environmental Protection Department (EPD). These regulatory bodies play a crucial role in ensuring that special waste is handled and disposed of safely and in compliance with the highest environmental standards.

Our employees worldwide are trained regularly and adhere to strict safety protocols and guidelines to minimize risks and protect both the environment and human health. We strive to implement measures for all of our production and administrative activities to further limit waste materials.

Waste (metric tons), Mendrisio, Switzerland* and Hong Kong, China

No Data Found

*Erbas figures not included

Projects and initiatives

From waste material to reusable
resource We are working towards reducing the nitrate content in wastewater by 85% by 2024. In 2022 we installed state-of-the-art equipment at our Mendrisio plant to transform wastewater from our processes into a valuable product: sodium nitrate.

 

This transformation not only significantly reduces our waste, but also makes the sodium nitrate reusable as a valuable raw material for the cement and glass industry.

 

Water dispensers throughout the company
To reduce the disposal of single-use PET bottles at our site in Mendrisio, we installed water dispensers directly connected to the water distribution system. We also distributed reusable water bottles to our employees.

 

By promoting the use of reusable water bottles and providing convenient access to drinking water, we have achieved a 50% reduction in the disposal of PET within our company. This initiative not only reduces our environmental footprint but also ensures the well-being of our employees. It also acts as a signal, encouraging us to think about how we can further reduce packaging waste.

 

Promoting mercury-free mining
We are actively involved in projects around the world to promote mercury-free mining. Mercury is used in artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASM) as part of the chemical process that separates gold from rock and ore. During this process, mercury is released into the atmosphere as methylmercury, which not only is a serious health hazard to ASM workers, but also poses a significant threat to the food chain, people, and the environment.

 

A prominent example is our collaboration with the Fairtrade Max Havelaar Foundation, a Swiss-based non-governmental organization (NGO), and the mining cooperatives of Central de Cooperativas Mineras de San Antonio de Poto de Ananea
(CECOMSAP) in Peru. This cooperation has resulted in the reduction of mercury use by investing part of the premiums from the sale of Fairtrade gold into the optimization and improvement of processing technologies at the mine sites.

05 People are precious to us

People are at the heart of everything. We are convinced that the human element is what creates impact, drives innovation, and fosters strong partnerships. These are essential for growth and sustainable transformation.

 

We prioritize the well-being and interests of the people in our company, in nearby communities, and along our value chain. This especially includes ensuring respect for human rights, fair working conditions, a safe and healthy work environment, living wages, and diverse and inclusive workplaces.