Sustainable waste management in circular economy is more than just recycling targets

Waste management companies play a key role in realising a sustainable circular economy; this is what their plans for the circular economy demonstrate at any rate. Paul De Bruycker, CEO of Indaver, outlines his vision on the topic.

What does Indaver focus on?

We are a European waste management company that manages over five million tonnes of various types of waste for its customers. Of that figure, 3.5 million tonnes is processed in an environmentally safe way in our own facilities, where we convert as much waste as possible into energy and also recycle or entirely destroy harmful and hazardous substances. Under our responsibility, the remaining 1.5 million tonnes of waste is sent to facilities which are closer geographically or otherwise more suitable. Indaver's core business consists of treating waste in specialist facilities with the aim of recovering as much energy and as many products as possible. In addition, we also focus on the destruction, isolation or safe storage of unwanted and hazardous substances so that these products do not end up in the materials and food chain. With this total waste management approach we offer an integrated solution for the European chemical and pharmaceutical industry in particular. We provide future-oriented management capacity and processing capacity for the public waste that is generated daily, for government agencies and society as a whole.

Which role do you think that waste management companies have in the emerging circular economy in which products and materials get a second life? 

The circular economy is geared towards extending the added value of products and even eliminating the production of waste as far as possible. I am convinced that we have a great future as a waste treatment company within this reality. This is because our role is set to change into one that will see us involved in creating and maintaining the circular economy in a sustainable manner. A lack of perceived value in the eyes of the observer does not mean that we need to pay less attention to waste. It is our responsibility to continue looking for the value in all waste flows, whilst at the same time safely integrating these waste flows into the materials and product chain. Managing products at the end of their life will always remain an important issue, especially if we want to convert them into valuable raw materials. What we must do is align our business models to the requirements of the customer in the circular economy.

Are there also certain obstacles for waste management companies in achieving a circular economy?

The challenge we face here is to close the materials loop efficiently and safely, without contaminating the products or the food chain with unwanted components. This requires extensive logistical operations as well as the necessary treatment capacity in order ensure the elimination of hazardous substances in the recycled material. The circular economy needs large quantities of quality raw materials. The ultimate goal we want to achieve is that the products created from secondary raw materials have the same great quality as products created from pure and virgin raw materials. We must ensure the same high level of convenience and keep potential risks to a minimum. This is essential to realise the circular economy in a sustainable manner. Most people consider the realisation of the recycling society and the stringent application of the waste hierarchy equal to the realisation of the circular economy. They hereby underestimate the efforts required in order to actually achieve the circular economy. The circular economy does not merely revolve around quantitative key performance indicators (KPIs) of a company as is the case for the recycling society, but also requires analysis of the qualitative and financial KPIs.

In your opinion, how far away are we from a perfect circular economy?

Not only is a change of behaviour required but there must also be massive investments in product and technological developments. You cannot expect the circular economy just to happen tomorrow. But if we remain committed to sustainability and if we as a society have the courage to put ambitious quantitative and qualitative targets first, I believe that we will succeed. The recycling society - continuing as it is doing - is definitely a positive step in the direction of the circular economy and we as Indaver are happy to continue to be a part of this process. But we certainly must not forget the waste management quality targets. Continually focusing on recycling targets alone offers no guarantee for sustainable waste management. The circular economy also focuses on added value and a high level of protection for people and the environment against hazardous substances. We must avoid contamination of the product and food chain at all costs since this simply shifts the problems into the future.

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