Fost Plus explains the success behind the New Blue Bag
Annual reports and press releases from Fost Plus read like one big success story. It is impressive what the Belgian organisation has managed to achieve in a relatively short time: to give shape to the desired circular packaging economy through uniform, nationwide waste collection, thorough sorting and high-quality recycling of household waste. Business development manager Philippe Gendebien talks about the successful strategy and implementation.
Until recently, Belgian citizens only collected plastic bottles and flasks in the PMD bag (Plastic, Metals and Beverage Cartons waste). However, from 2019 onwards, the sorting for plastic packaging has been expanded and the New Blue Bag has gradually been introduced. In this New Blue Bag almost all plastic packaging may be disposed of. At the end of this year, the New Blue Bag will be introduced nationwide and Belgium will therefore have a uniform collection system.
In the meantime, the stream of collected PMD per inhabitant per year has increased from 15 to no less than 23 kg, an increase of 50 percent. This makes Belgian citizens European sorting champions.
Meanwhile, the country transformed its recycling capacity from nine 'old' sorting centres - with small to medium capacity (the largest had 30,000 tonnes capacity) - to five state-of-the-art recycling centres with an average capacity of 50,000 tonnes a year. Here, the PMD materials are sorted into no less than fourteen fractions; this may even become fifteen or sixteen. "We want a recycling solution for every packaging type. You can be sure that packaging discarded in the PMD bag is recycled," Philippe Gendebien says.
Phillippe Gendebien - Fost Plus
Fost Plus, for household packaging
Fost Plus is responsible in Belgium for the selective collection, sorting and recycling of household packaging waste. The organisation finances and organises door-to-door collection of PMD, paper and cardboard and glass (via the glass bulbs). In addition, Fost Plus finances the collection of these and other packaging materials at the municipal waste container parks. By 2020, Fost Plus already achieved 51 percent recycling of plastic packaging, five years ahead of the European target of 50 percent which will come into effect in 2025. The targets are ambitious. Belgium wants 65 percent of plastic household packaging to be recycled by 2023. In addition, the use of recyclate is also stimulated. In Belgium, 54 percent of the recyclate from the PET bottle stream is already used for bottle-to-bottle applications. The collection and recycling of industrial waste is carried out by sister organisation Valipac.
Success has many fathers, it is often said mockingly, but in the approach of Fost Plus and its partners, it really is the case. To start with, Gendebien praises the intermunicipal waste associations, the cooperatives of Belgian municipalities. "They are primarily responsible for the waste of their citizens. They can choose to do the collection, sorting and recycling themselves or to outsource it to the market. In the past, Walloon and Flemish intermunicipal waste associations went their separate ways in this, but in recent years - also in consultation with the sorting and recycling companies - we have managed to achieve an unambiguous strategy and long-term vision that everyone believed in."
"Everyone recognised the need for fine-meshed sorting and realised that major investments were needed, both in technology and in capacity, if we really wanted to realise the new P+MD. Such investments are more feasible together than alone. You need synergy and high capacity to make them profitable. Here Gendebien comes to another key success factor. "By working together and by setting a common goal, the intermunicipal waste companies and Fost Plus were able to offer more perspective to the market players. To make the development of five new sorting centres possible, long-term, nine-year contracts were concluded. This offered these centres certainty that they could move forward. Nine years is a long time, especially in a market where a lot is still going to happen. However, there is enough flexibility in the contracts to follow market developments.
The results are impressive. Indaver (in Willebroek), PreZero (in Evergem) and Valtris (in Couillet) took brand new sorting centres into use at the beginning of this year. Two more will follow: before the end of 2021 number four (Val'Up in Bergen) and next year number five (Sitel in Liège)
In addition, Fost Plus is also actively increasing the national recycling capacity, especially for plastic packaging. In 2020, 79 percent of household packaging waste was recycled in Belgium. The rest went to neighbouring countries France, Germany and the Netherlands, so all Belgian household packaging waste remains in Europe. However, it was mainly plastic packaging that was recycled in the neighbouring countries. This is about to change thanks to the award of contracts for five new recycling centres. Three of these were already announced last year and two will follow later this year.
Gendebien: "By setting up recycling capacity in our own country, we make valuable secondary raw materials available for the local industry. The uniform collection via the New Blue Bag ensures the supply of household plastic waste, and thanks to the fine meshed sorting, a constant inflow of qualitative material for the recycling market is guaranteed. The granulate is of high quality, equal to the quality of virgin material."
With the introduction of the New Blue Bag, an extra 90,000 tonnes of material becomes available for recycling every year. The bags are collected from people's homes on average every fortnight. "Comfort is important. Everyone can participate easily. People do not have to walk to a container in the neighbourhood or drive to the municipal waste container park. The fact that we have a uniform system in all regions also makes communication effective: whether you live in Wallonia, Flanders or Brussels, the sorting message is the same for every resident."
"The effect is proven by the 8 kg extra we now collect per household. We think that this will increase to 9 or 10 kg. Moreover, the margin of error is low. In the new situation, 95 percent of the packaging is sorted correctly. The uniform scenario throughout the country results in a constant and homogeneous flow," says Gendebien. It used to be sorted into eight streams, now there are 14. The new material streams include PET trays, PE films, polypropylene and polystyrene. The expanded collection (all plastic packaging) and the fine-meshed sorting have the side effect of reducing the residue flow and sorting errors, from about 15 to 10 to 5 percent. "We are going to optimise that further and then come really close to the 5 percent," Gendebien expects. Where previously the sorting companies were responsible for the residue stream, today Fost Plus owns it. "This responsibility for the residue stream was an incentive for the recycling companies to keep the amount of residue as low as possible. With the latest sorting technologies, this works well. We think it is important to be able to play a role afterwards as well. Who knows, maybe in the future value can be obtained from the last bit of residue.
Fost Plus and PackForward: international coordination and knowledge sharing
Fost Plus, together with the Netherlands Institute for Sustainable Packaging, Valipac (also from Belgium) and Grønt Punkt (Norway), is one of the co-founders of PackForward, the European sustainable packaging movement. Philippe Gendebien: "PackForward is an important platform for international coordination. We like to count ourselves among the frontrunners in the circular packaging economy, but that doesn't mean we can't learn from other countries and parties. For example, I am always impressed by the knowledge of the Netherlands Institute for Sustainable Packaging, which has resources for in-depth research and develops tools to help companies move forward. We are always curious about new initiatives and publications. Because we are now working on litter ourselves, we also look closely at NL Schoon, the Dutch organisation for the reduction of litter. Their knowledge is also very useful to us."