The collaboration between waste collector, material recycler and recycled material user could work in the US, as well, says Jerrold Wang, a Lux Research analyst in the firm’s sustainable building materials practice.
“The main drivers of these practices are 1) lowered cost of raw materials and hence improved profitability, 2) government policy to push circular economy — such as mandatory rules, tax rebates and credits of building standards — and 3) corporation sustainability and market awareness,” Wang says.
Closing the Loop
The French recycling loop starts with e-waste collection by Eco-systèmes, France’s nationwide nonprofit waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) collection and recycling firm. Eco-systèmes delivers the collected e-waste to Veolia’s site in Angers, central France, where the e-waste is sorted and recovered as recycled raw material. The Angers site processes 45,000 metric tons of small appliances, such as irons and kettles, a year.
Finally, part of the recycled plastic is sent to Groupe SEB’s plastics plant in Saint-Jean-de-Bournay in eastern France, where it is fed into the production circuit for a steam generator, which has a case made entirely of recycled material.
The companies say while the steam generator is the first application, trials are underway that will lead to additional applications. They would not disclose what the additional applications will be.
The collaboration is the result of a three-year research partnership between Groupe SEB and Veolia.
To make the manufacturing process work, Veolia adjusted the composition and characteristics of its recycled plastic to achieve a material quality similar to that of the virgin material and comply with Groupe SEB’s requirements. Veolia also says it optimized the flow of the recycled raw material supplied to Groupe SEB’s production plant to guarantee regular feedstock for the appliance manufacturing circuit.
“For the first time, we are involved in the design and manufacturing process of a small household appliance,” says Bernard Harambillet, CEO of Veolia’s waste recycling and recovery business in France. “Our goal is to achieve large-scale growth for this business model, which replaces virgin material with recycled raw material in industrial manufacturing processes while complying with quality, quantity and cost requirements.”
US Circular Economy Collaborations
Veolia says it is also working with clients in the US to develop circular economy systems. In Hometown, Pennsylvania, for example, Veolia turns industrial waste into potassium hydroxide (KOH), a chemical used in refining operations. The KOH neutralization process produces potassium fluoride (KF), which is usually discarded as hazardous waste. Since 2001, Veolia has worked with Air Products and Chemicals’ Pennsylvania plant to recycle its KF waste. Veolia uses KF as a feedstock to produce KOH that Air Products’ can then re-used in its production process.
As Steve Hopper, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Veolia North America’s industrial business explains on the company’s website: “We use the spent KOH as feedstock to manufacture new product, which our clients can then utilize in the HF Alkylation unit in their refinery. This process helps eliminate the need to use virgin natural resources to produce KOH, and provides our clients a legitimate and sustainable alternative to discarding the KF. All combined, our process not only helps save our clients money, but it also helps the environment.”
Wang says this closed-loop collaboration can work in different industries as well. “For example in the glass recycling industry, a company called Ripple Glass not only collects waste glass from end users (such as residential areas and restaurants), but also recycles the waste stream into raw materials for beer bottle manufacturers (such as Ardaph Group) and fiberglass insulation developers (such as Owens Corning).
Or, if there is a large number of waste collectors available, the collaboration may only be between the material recycler and the recycled material user, such as in the tire industry.
“In the tire industry, a company called Lehigh Technology processes waste tires into fine rubber powder tailored for specific tire manufacturers, and this company has already formed a partnership with at least two of the world’s leading tire manufacturers,” Wang says. “Lehigh Technology can get access to the waste stream from multiple waste tire collectors (or haulers), so we didn’t see its announced partnership with upstream material collectors.”
Finally, Wang notes, the profitability of the collaboration depends on the economy as a whole. “For example, the current low oil price can impose pressure on nylon and tire recycling, since the recycled materials may need to match their price to that of oil derived products, such as synthetic rubber and virgin nylon,” he says.