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Jean-Marc Boursier

Jean-Marc
Boursier

SUEZ Group Deputy CEO for the Recycling and Recovery segment in Europe

Circular economy expert
Jean-Marc Boursier

How does the Circular Economy Transform Businesses at SUEZ?

 

What do you understand by ‘Transforming its business by focusing on the circular economy’?

 

Jean-Marc Boursier: In a world which is constantly changing, there is an urgent need to establish a growth model which uses fewer resources. The world population is set to reach 8.5 billion by 2030. By 2035, 40% of this population will live in areas under water stress. According to estimations, world iron resources are set to run out before 2042, and copper resources before 2044. In the face of these challenges, SUEZ is fully engaged in the resource revolution: our role today is to help our clients to move from a linear model—based on an overconsumption of resources—to a circular one which reuses them. This orientation pertains as much to water-related activities as it does to waste-related ones. Recycling and recovery activities are undergoing three transformations: the transition from an infrastructure business to a service business; the transition from a logic of waste disposal to one based on the recovery of waste in the form of materials and energy; and finally, the digital conversion.

The circular economy is at the heart of our activities. It allows us to create local loops so that waste from some becomes resources for others. For instance, in places as distinct as the Rhone Valley and the Shanghai region, we transform waste from a chemical platform into steam we then resell to industries belonging to the same platform. To take another example: in the past, papermakers had to buy forests for their cardboard production, in order to secure a supply of their raw material.  Today, nearly 100% of cardboard comes from recycled paper.

 

What are the most promising material streams?

 

J-MB: The three streams on which SUEZ has focused major research efforts are also those that the European authorities will regulate in the coming years, so as to speed up the emergence of new behaviors. The first of these is organic waste, which can be recovered as energy (bio-methane) or as matter (compost, agricultural fertilizer). The second is related to demolition debris, waste from construction sites and from materials, these being the most significant in terms of mass. In France, of 350 million tons of waste produced, no less than 260 million tons are from the construction sector. The government has set this sector the goal of a 70% waste recovery rate by 2020. We at SUEZ have been working with Bouygues, Saint-Gobain, Vinci and all players of the sector to consider how to improve the recovery of this type of waste.  Finally, we work a lot on plastics, and in particular with Procter&Gamble, L’Oreal and Unilever. For certain resins, a quality level has now been attained for recycled materials which is comparable to virgin ones.

 

Are there activities which have proved successful for SUEZ in the past and which are less strategic today, for example incineration and landfill?

 

J-MB: Incineration is one of the components of energy recovery and still has a future.  It is not possible today to sort all our waste; this means we have to use the energetic potential of residual waste. Countries such as Sweden and Finland use the calorific potential of waste to heat their urban networks. They even favor importing waste in the form of combustibles with a high calorific value over local deforestation. An activity which is set to decline massively in Europe in the coming years is waste disposal; the most extreme aspect of this being landfill. Landfill is tantamount to negating the resource that waste represents, be this energy or material. The role of a company such as SUEZ is to come up with solutions which can ease such changes.

 

Is digital conversion necessary for the introduction of a circular approach?

 

J-MB: Yes, on several levels. Digital technologies allow us to develop e-commerce solutions aimed at our clients in industry but also at citizens; on the other hand, to design data collection schemes, to monitor water consumption in real time for example. Finally, digital technologies allow us to design ‘marketplaces’ which facilitate the connection between players with complementary needs. This was how we set up Organix®, a marketplace for organic waste, and also developed a commercial partnership with HESUS, a company which brings together producers of waste from construction sites with those who would like to recover this. We also took a minority share in Rubicon Global, a leader for waste collection and recycling digital solutions in North America.

 

What advice would you give to businesses wishing to integrate the principles of circular economy in their practice?
J-MB: Businesses often have the same needs and face the same concerns: how to reduce waste production from the onset, how to limit water and energy consumption, and finally how to recover the waste produced. We can support them with these different issues, but also provide guidance as to the stakes pertaining to their so-called “extended” responsibility. Historically, industrial players were essentially concerned about the waste produced by their factories.  Today, they concern themselves with the impact of the waste that their customers generate, through the use of their products. We can for example offer solutions for designing packaging using recyclable materials, but also packaging which is easier to recycle. The fact that the responsibility of businesses now extends beyond their direct environmental footprint is for them a major cultural shift.

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