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To develop a more circular economy, do the main challenges for Veolia lie in waste collection or in improving recycling technology?

Infrastructure and technologies for both collection and recycling are needed. Recycling is dependent on waste collection. A more sophisticated collection system, with waste producers sorting at the source, is the first step needed for recycling players such as Veolia to get maximum benefit from waste so that these resources, which have been given new value, can be fed back into the production cycle. The challenge of waste collection lies in logistics and flow optimization. For example, we have chosen to support the Yoyo startup  [fr] in France, which rewards people for sorting their waste and means we can collect a better quality of waste from plastic bottles.

The challenge for the recycling economy is to guarantee our industrial customers a reliable, good-quality supply of recycled materials – secondary raw materials – at a competitive price compared with virgin materials. Effective recycling technologies exist. We recycle solar panels, electric batteries, engine oils, and so on, but some of these technologies are not yet sufficiently competitive in the marketplace to be used on a large scale. What is really needed is for the economic model to decouple the price of recycled materials from the price of virgin materials.

In 2018, we set up an innovative partnership with Tetra Pak to meet the challenge of recycling all components of used food cartons collected in Europe by 2025 (the cartons are 75% cardboard, 20% plastic and 5% aluminum). Currently, fibers that are recovered during recycling are transformed into high-quality paper pulp and re-used mainly as cartons, paper towels and napkins. The new partnership will now make it possible to convert the mixture of polymer and aluminum that is extracted from the paper pulp-making process into primary materials for the plastics industry and use it to make crates and pallets in particular. So the total value of used food cartons should double and will eventually optimize the value chain for collecting and recycling food cartons while ensuring its long-term viability. Our investment in broadening the circular economy and increasing recycling capacities, thereby generating both economic and social benefits, needs to be supported by the markets and society as a whole. Each actor, from local government authorities to SMEs, manufacturers and consumers, can act as a lever to stimulate demand for recycled materials rather than virgin materials.