La REcyclerie

La REcyclerie conference: the circular economy serving industry

Posted on 23 June 2016.

As part of the cycle of conferences at La REcyclerie, Veolia takes another look at the major circular economy issues for industry. Inspiration straight from the Netherlands!

In March 2016, La REcyclerie launched “Europe of the possible", a program that highlights sustainable development initiatives in a different European country each month. In June, it was the turn of the Netherlands to take center stage.

A core partner in both the program and in La REcyclerie, the Veolia Foundation has set up a cycle of five conferences focusing on the circular economy. The second in this series was held on Tuesday, June 14 on the theme of "the circular economy serving industrial performance". Summary.

Reversing the trend

The planet is at a turning point in its history. With the explosion of the world’s population and the development of the middle classes, the pressure on natural resources is much greater. At the present rate, we will soon have emptied the Earth of all its reserves.

In order to reverse the trend, we urgently need to change our production and consumption patterns. In other words, find a way of reusing resources. This is the challenge presented by the transition from a linear economy (produce - use - throw) to a circular economy (produce - use - throw) to (produce - use - re-use).

The role of industry

As major players in the economy, industry has an important role to play in this transition. They have to embrace a new approach, which will consist of managing their resources more efficiently and reducing their emissions.

They will have to learn new habits in four areas.

  1. With suppliers: take a responsible purchasing approach.
  2. On site: industries must minimize the impacts of their production on the environment. This is known as environmental management
  3. The offering: the products and services marketed must be eco-designed.
  4. With customers: encourage the public to consume in a more environmentally friendly way. This happens by raising awareness and responsible communication.

The Jacobs Douwe Egberts coffee production plant is a good example of an industry that has successfully met the circular economy challenge. On its site in Joure, Veolia spent three years developing a biomass boiler. The residues from roasting coffee are used as fuel in the boiler. When they burn they give off steam, which is used as a source of renewable energy in coffee production. Commissioned in 2013, this innovation has enabled the plant to make savings of over 1 million euros and reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 70%.

"Green deals": public policy as a lever for innovation

Another inspirational Dutch approach: "green deals" or "green pacts". Through the program - implemented in 2011 - the government partners various organizations (businesses, communities, research centers, etc.) with the aim of removing the obstacles hindering circular projects. These obstacles may be regulatory, organizational or technological.

When a "green deal" is signed, each stakeholder volunteers and commits to acting at its particular level to ensure the successful conclusion of the project. Since 2011, 175 "green deals" have been concluded. They have all been chosen for their ability to produce fast results that can be easily deployed at territorial level. They provide excellent proof that public policy can act as a real lever for the development of the circular economy.

Take the case of the Port of Rotterdam, one of the largest ports in the world. It handles an increasing volume of maritime traffic and also hosts some of the most polluting industries - chemicals, gas and oil. To mitigate the risks for the environment, the Port, the municipality of Rotterdam and the South Holland district joined forces with the objective of creating an industrial ecology. In the green deal that was concluded, the Port industries are considered as a single ecosystem. The objective is to optimize flows and reduce emissions. This takes place for example through the shared capture and storage of CO2. Or by transferring energy from the Port to the city – achieved by building a 26 kilometer pipeline. The steam emitted by the different industries is recovered and transported to an area of the city to provide heat for 50,000 people. It is a flagship installation that allows the Port activities to directly serve the circular economy.

In conclusion

The final word comes from Amélie Rouvin, an environmental project manager with Veolia. According to her, two major challenges still remain before the transition to a circular economy can really begin.

First challenge: to develop new profitable and virtuous business models. Enable businesses to achieve both environmental and economic savings. Second challenge: to move to a large scale. The circular economy covers every area of society. It is the business of industry, but also more generally that of all businesses, communities, associations, and of course citizens!