In the fast-paced world of the recycling, achieving success in local markets possessing their own legislation and industry rules might become a challenge. For the Bollegraaf Group, the journey to success in France has been particularly evident in recent years. We got an opportunity to sit down with Charles Daridon, our Global Sales Director, to discuss the projects that the company has undertaken in France and speak about the remarkable results they have achieved. In this interview, Charles Daridon shares insights into the strategies, challenges, and moments of pride that have defined Bollegraaf’s experience in the French market.
Charles, could you say that the French market is different from other European markets?
The French market was the first one to become fully automated, especially in single stream*. I can recall a conversation with my colleagues about concepts such as automatic baling some six to seven years ago. At that time, this was met with skepticism and perceived as too impractical for investment. Today these very functionalities are not only accepted but in high demand in the industry. It’s an impressive transformation, but in France, this has been a reality for the past decade.
France has always been one of the most advanced markets with its innovative approach, extending to the automation of factories, advanced SCADA systems, and comprehensive reporting processes. At Bollegraaf, we have been carefully studying these trends in the French market, gaining invaluable insights that ultimately influence and improve operations across other markets within our scope. France for us is not just a success story; it is a source of innovation that shapes the future of Bollegraaf’s ambitions around the world.
*A single stream is a system in which all paper fibers, plastics, metals, and other containers are mixed in a collection truck, instead of being sorted by the depositor into separate commodities.
“France for us is not just a success story; it’s a source of innovation that shapes the future of Bollegraaf’s ambitions around the world.”
With nearly 30 years of experience in the waste industry, including 15 years in sorting plants, could you share your insights into the evolving landscape of waste management innovations?
As I reflect on the past 10-15 years, the arrival of optical sorters stands out as a transformative milestone in our industry. This technology has reshaped the business as we have transitioned from relying solely on mechanical and manual sorting to a more efficient combination of mechanical and optical sorting processes. This shift has significantly reduced the need for manual labor in end-quality control and sorting, lightening the workload for the workforce. However, it is essential to recognize that this progress has also meant an increased focus on the maintenance of waste sorting plants and equipment.
Another crucial moment in our industry has been the ongoing professionalization. In the past, parameters such as plant efficiency and material flow were estimated rather than precisely measured. Nowadays, the landscape has evolved dramatically. We are witnessing the entry of new actors, including major distributors in the food industry, and, consequently, the need to operate around the clock, which is far from the traditional two-shift industry of years past. Here, Bollegraaf Group enjoys a substantial advantage due to the robustness of our equipment. In the demanding 24/7 environment, only top-level equipment can truly excel, and this shift has certainly played to our strengths.
In this ever-evolving waste industry, my experience has shown me the pivotal role of technological advancements and the ongoing drive toward professionalism that continue to shape the direction of this dynamic sector.
Which technological advancements has the Bollegraaf Group been elaborating lately?
In today’s landscape, where market demands and regulations are scaling new heights in the recycling industry, there’s a timeless truth that echoes through the ages, “Science sans conscience, n’est que ruine de l’âme” [Science without conscience is the ruin of the Soul], as the great writer Rabelais once wisely noted.
As we navigate these changing times, the government now sets its sights on a minimum percentage of recycled material in new products, fueling a surge in demand. However, here’s the catch: the quality bar must be raised significantly. Falling short of these standards carries not only fines but also the rejection of materials.
To assist our customers in meeting these soaring expectations, Bollegraaf and Lubo Recycling Solutions are dedicating substantial resources to research and development. At the same moment, the market is embracing digitalization, where data and artificial intelligence have become indispensable tools. This is why we believe that a vital step for the MRFs of the future is the Bollegraaf Analyzer.
The Bollegraaf Analyzer is a versatile AI identification machine, a beacon of conscientious science, echoing Rabelais’s wisdom. It executes the quality control of incoming and outgoing materials, and monitors performance around bottleneck equipment. The Analyzer can identify material classes, from general classes like cardboard, paper, and plastic, to more specific sub classes for instance; PET, HDPE, PP, etc., and even more subspecific such as food versus non-food or brand recognition. In the end, it reminds us that in the world of science, conscience must always be our guiding light.
Which project could illustrate the just-mentioned changes for you?
Speaking about projects, the latest one always feels like the best – a testament to our continuous learning and improvement process. Waste management is an ever-evolving sector, with shifting quality standards and a growing scale of operations.
“The only thing that will never change is the fact that our clients’ margin is strongly connected to the availability of their plant”
In this context, I would like to highlight Excoffier – a single-stream plant in Haute-Savoie that truly stands out in our recent endeavors. What sets Excoffier apart, is its exceptional efficiency, achieved within a remarkable 12-month timeline from start to finish. An achievement that we are immensely proud of! Not only did we surpass the minimum purity targets we had guaranteed, but we also left our client delighted with the outcome.
One of the distinctive features of Excoffier is the reintroduction of our branded separation equipment, like the Lubo AWS screen and the Lubo ONP screen, replacing the traditional trommel. Through significant process enhancements and technological upgrades on these machines, we have achieved excellent separation capabilities, including improved size separation and 2D/3D sorting, ultimately leading to significantly increased performance.
Reflecting on the past, approximately 15 years ago when I entered the business, we faced challenges with the ONP screen, leading to their removal from installations in France due to material wrapping around the shaft, causing operational disruptions. However, with collaborative efforts together with Lubo Recycling Solutions and the guidance of experienced partners at Van Dyk, we have developed new technology and made essential improvements to the shaft design. This has not only reduced wrapping issues but also simplified maintenance and cleaning procedures, all while delivering superior separation performance compared to conventional methods.
The flexibility of the Excoffier plant is truly remarkable, thanks to the strategic placement of the AWS screen at the beginning of the process. The latest generation of this machine allows for easy adjustments to stream speed. Looking ahead, our focus is on seamlessly adapting separation sizes, and linking this functionality to artificial intelligence. This, I believe, is the future of Materials Recovery Facilities (MRFs), and we are already making significant progress in this direction.
I firmly believe that understanding how the plant responds to material stream variations, predicting production jams, and enabling predictive maintenance are indispensable features of every MRF in the future. The only thing that will never change is the fact that our clients’ margin is strongly connected to the availability of their plant, a relationship that remains at the core of our mission.
Speaking of our major projects in the vicinity, Nicollin represents a remarkable case study worth exploring further. Could you tell us more about what is so special about this plant?
Nicollin has evolved into a pivotal project, one that has provided us with invaluable insights and a profound learning experience for major single-stream projects within France. The challenges we confronted during this project played a crucial role in increasing our knowledge and refining our processes. It’s fair to say that Nicollin laid the foundation upon which Excoffier was built, marking a significant evolution in our approach.
What truly sets Nicollin apart is its astonishing capacity to operate at 25 to 30% more tonnage than its original design intended while still maintaining a high-standard level of quality. This, for us at Bollegraaf, represents an incredible achievement. It underscores our commitment to pushing boundaries and finding innovative solutions that not only meet but exceed our client’s expectations.
That truly sounds incredible! What type of challenges would one normally face while operating a waste sorting installation?
When it comes to the ever-persistent challenge in recycling plants worldwide, it would be plastic film and plastic bags. I am proud to say that we have come up with a smart solution for it – a machine called “Film Grabber” which is currently operational at our client, ECOTRI, in Fouesnant. This remarkable piece of equipment has been functioning there perfectly for an impressive 15 years, showcasing its exceptional durability and performance.
The Film Grabber is strategically placed at the beginning of the recycling process to remove 50% of bags larger than A4 size. While 50% might not seem like monumental efficiency, it makes a huge difference. The larger bags pose a significant challenge for optical sorters further down the line, often covering other items and hindering their identification and sorting. By eliminating these items before they reach the optical sorting stage, we significantly improve the entire sorting process.
In practical terms, by the time the film passes through the Film Grabber, its purity is at an impressive 90%.
You mentioned ECOTRI while telling us about the film challenge. Could you give some insights into what sort of project it is?
We built the ECOTRI plant 25 years ago, marking our second collaboration with this client. In the years since, this installation has undergone not one, but two significant upgrades, first in 2014 and then again in 2016. It is a reflection of our commitment to continuous improvement, constantly seeking ways to optimize our plants and enhance their efficiency.
But what truly sets ECOTRI apart is its role as a pilot site for Citeo*, an organization at the forefront of waste management innovation. ECOTRI has consistently been at the forefront of testing new technologies and pioneering the development of new products. These advancements have always been in alignment with Citeo’s vision, and any modifications made to ECOTRI were at their request. Citeo essentially sets the standards for waste sorting facilities, specifying the quality of materials they want recycling plants to sort. ECOTRI, in this sense, has served as a showcase of what is achievable in a waste sorting plant.
Citeo also provides subsidies for companies looking to adapt their plants to meet new regulations. With the evolution of technology, an increasing array of products, particularly plastics, have found acceptance in sorting plants. Items like yogurt pots and milk bottles can now be sorted and recycled. For us, this was a seamless transition, as we had already been ahead of the curve in these advancements.
As for future regulations, we have designed our plants in France with adaptability in mind. We anticipate evolving rules and have built our plants to be flexible, allowing us to add extra sorting capabilities for mixed plastics or delve deeper into the separation of various materials. In essence, our approach is future-proof, always ready to embrace the changing landscape of waste management.
* Citeo is a not-for-profit company founded from the merger of Eco-Emballages and Ecofolio with a view to reducing the environmental impact of packaging and paper. Its main work is to help companies find solutions to their recycling problems, to advise on environmental responsibility, optimize low-cost sorting and recycling procedures and motivate the public to adopt user-friendly effective sorting.
Are there any other major changes in the recycling sector in France that are happening at this moment?
In the changing landscape of the French market, we see a notable shift towards a greater demand for C&I (Commercial and Industrial) and C&D (Construction and Demolition) waste. In particular, C&I waste sorting has become more important than it used to be. Right now, we are in the middle of building a plant for Baudelet in Haubourdin, located in the northern part of France, together with Lubo Recycling Solutions, and this project is getting close to completion.
Looking ahead, a crucial market on the horizon—one of significant importance—is about making plants that specialize in these specific waste types better. These facilities are set to follow a path similar to single-stream plants: they will get bigger, and the quality standards they must meet will become higher. While we have made a lot of progress in optimizing single-stream plants, there’s still a lot more to improve in the C&I and C&D sectors.
“While we’ve made a lot of progress in optimizing single-stream plants, there’s still a lot more to improve in the C&I and C&D sectors.”
Intriguingly, most C&I plants are run by families, and there are no big companies dominating this sector for now. But we expect that to change soon, with larger companies entering this market and leading to the creation of larger plants.
At the same time, the growing chemical industry, thanks to oil & gas companies, has increased the need for PP (Polypropylene) and PE (Polyethylene) plastics. Chemical recycling lets us turn old plastics into almost virgin state, something that is hard to achieve with just traditional mechanical recycling. But here’s the key point: to do this, we need a lot of feedstock, and we can get that from C&I waste. It is important to understand that ‘feedstock’ is a key word here.
We are going to have to dig deeper into our sorting processes to get enough of these raw materials. Quantity is what we need first, and then we can work on improving quality. Quantity is key for these projects to make sense and to secure the investment needed to develop them. It is a changing landscape, and we’re working hard to meet the evolving demands of the market.
So far, we have been talking about Bollegraaf Group’s projects within France itself. Are there also examples of installations being built on the French territories outside the continental part?
At present, we are engaged in a significant project on Réunion Island, situated in the Indian Ocean. This project is rather unique in itself, given the considerable distance involved. While this distance presents its own set of challenges, we are pleased to report that construction on the sorting part of the plant is well underway and is expected to reach completion by the end of 2023. What is particularly noteworthy is our increased role in this project compared to the initial plan, opening even more opportunities for the Bollegraaf Group in this region.
The plant is designed to operate in two shifts with a capacity of 50 tons per hour, which translates to 138,000 tons annually. Our mission is to manage the waste generated by the approximately half a million residents living in the southern part of the island.
To conclude, the French market remains and will always be a central focus for the Bollegraaf Group. It is a dynamic and rapidly evolving market brimming with potential, driven by a desire for professionalization and automation. We remain committed to delivering unique waste sorting facilities, earning the trust of our French partners along the way.