With a developing economic and regulatory framework encouraging people, business and industry to reduce their carbon output, environmental businesses have been given a small gap to apply their technologies to help companies optimise their carbon footprint. The benefit will be not just greater ecological performance and sustainability; an environmental revolution will be a significant driver of new jobs and develop new skills within South Africa.
Among the leading companies internationally on the front line of the fight against climate change is the Veolia Group. In South Africa, Veolia has been behind many of the country’s most progressive recycling and reuse projects in the water treatment industry, from the 47.5 ML/day Durban Water Recycling plant, to Distell’s 95% self-sufficient wastewater treatment plant in the Western Cape.
In addition the Water Technologies division, the Group also comprises specialist Waste Management and Energy Recovery divisions, all working together to reduce carbon dependence and optimise resource use and management to bring the circular economy to life. In 2018 alone, Veolia installations produced nearly 56 million megawatt hours of green energy and converted 49 million metric tons of waste into new materials and energy.
#LivingCircular: Realistic solutions, making a positive impact
Under the banner of #LivingCircular, Veolia has partnered with a wide and growing assembly of companies, initiatives and innovators as the fight against CO2 emissions is becoming more organised.
“A large part of our success in transitioning to a more sustainable economy depends on introducing the right technologies at the right time,” explains Chris Braybrooke, General Manager: Marketing. For Veolia, an understanding what is both possible and realistic to implement in the short, medium and long term, as well as for what socio-economic impact, is the foundation of any circular project.
“Successful, scalable projects depend on a favourable combination of three things: technological maturity (how capable and effective is the solution?); commercial maturity (is the solution economically competitive?); as well as the positive impacts this can have on local employment,” Braybrooke says.
Given this, Veolia’s short term objectives focus on energy efficiency of industry and buildings; the development of cogeneration; the recovery of organic waste; the incineration of non-recyclable waste; the increase in the performance of drinking water systems; adaptation of seawater desalination; wastewater reuse; and recycling of plastics and other waste.
The strategy has enabled the Group to set up businesses that are both economically viable and environmentally beneficial.
Heating an entire town with straw
In the Hungarian town of Pécs, heating for 150 000 residents is supplied by a Veolia-operated biomass cogeneration plant that uses straw, corn, sunflower and wood waste from surrounding farms to produce electrical and thermal energy.
The ash produced during combustion, rich in potassium, magnesium and phosphorous, is in turn harvested and utilised as agricultural fertiliser. In addition, by using agricultural by-products to supply the boilers has reduced gas consumption, avoiding the emission of 400 000 tonnes of CO2 per year. This project creates 170 permanent jobs and a further 500 seasonal jobs.
Optimising food carton recycling
Last year, Veolia and Tetra Pak joined forces to recycle 100% of the constituents used to make carton packages for food and beverage in Europe by 2025. PolyAL, the plastic and aluminium compound waste that makes up 25% of this packaging, is a flexible, waterproof, highly resistant and rot-proof material, which means it could be a real resource. This year, Veolia begins the development of the plant that will recycle this material that can be used to manufacture crates, plastic pallets and even outdoor furniture.
10 lives for milk bottles
Veolia has over the last few years been developing solutions to limit marine plastic pollution by reducing land-based sources of pollution via a circular economy approach. One such project is Veolia’s Dagenham recycling centre in the UK, which recycles 300 million high density polyethylene plastic bottles into new bottles every year. This cycle can be repeated up to ten times, meaning the amount of plastic produced for milk bottles could be reduced by 90%.
Valuable resources in household appliances
In France, Veolia manages the country’s largest WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) recycling plant, in Angers, where it recycles up almost 300 000 large appliances every year. In appliances such as refrigerators, freezers and air conditioners, appropriate treatment is essential, as refrigerant gases have a global warming potential up to 10 000 times higher than CO2. Once decontaminated, Veolia recycles approximately 14 678 tonnes of material – including 58%, 5% non-ferrous metals and 20% plastic – per annum at this plant. This plant alone employs 200 people, 48 of whom have disabilities.
“Common to all these solutions is their reasonable costs that produce convincing results, which includes environmental and social benefits,” Braybrooke says.
As South Africa gets ready to take a big step in its journey to a circular economy, it can be encouraged that a wide variety of proven technologies exist to help it meet its environmental objectives. “The longer we wait to act, the deeper our ecological debt becomes, and the greater our efforts will need to be in the long term to adapt to dramatic climate change,” Braybrooke concludes.
Read more about Veolia’s #LivingCircular projects here: https://www.livingcircular.veolia.com/en.