SECTOR WATCH 

Innovation and Resources on Urban Waste

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Circulus Berkel Interview with Michiel Westerhoff

6 September 2018

The textile industry is known for its devastating environmental and human rights impacts. According to recent estimates, the total greenhouse gas emissions from textiles production, are at 1.2 billion tonnes annually which are more than those of all international flights and maritime shipping combined. Textile production is steadily increasing – and with it the adverse effects it has on humans and nature.

So in the face of these facts - what needs to happen to make circular textiles chains a reality and what can public waste management companies do to contribute to a more circular textile industry?

One year ago, we talked to Michiel Westerhoff of Circulus-Berkel, the public waste management company that serves eight municipalities with around 440,000 inhabitants in the Dutch Province Gelderland, about their plans for a new textiles sorting centre. In July 2018 the centre starting operating and we are meeting Michiel once more to hear about how they got to where they are today. Read on to learn about the procurement process and how the centre tackles some of the major issues of the textile chain in a sustainable way.

 

Interview

You just opened a new textile sorting centre, which is operated by ReShare, tell us what is special about this centre.

We wanted to create an approach to used textile disposal that really challenged the business as usual – textile still lags behind in the whole recycling world. There is very little regulation about how to dispose of textiles and the whole situation is not very transparent. About 38% of waste textiles are currently collected in the Netherlands, which means first of all that 62% are going straight to incineration together with the regular household waste.

Although it is commonly assumed that used textiles are used for a charitable purpose, more often than not they are simply sold for the highest price to buyers around the globe [1]. And what happens once they are shipped is often unclear. They are sold on local markets or burnt or landfilled. And this is where we need to start – with the textile sorting centre we are taking a huge step towards more transparency. All reusable clothes that we sort are traceable. And with the idea in mind to keep them in the loop as locally as possible, they are either sold in Dutch second hand shops or within Europe.

Textiles that cannot be reused as clothing are recycled on the fibre level, where we separate the different fibres going into the product and sell them to manufacturers of recycled clothing or other materials that require fibre. About 25% of the collected textiles are still non-recyclable and will be incinerated. We are looking into the possibilities of new recycling techniques like chemical recycling to see how this number can be reduced.

But we aimed for more: we also created 25 full time equivalent jobs for people with difficulties integrating in the work force. This way we don’t only contribute to sustainability globally but also support our community here.

These are indeed some ambitious goals you achieved – tell us how you set up the tendering process to get to this point.

We were looking for a solution to textile sorting that did not exist before. Which is why we opted for an innovation procurement procedure. Our award criteria were based on four important pillars, on each of which we gave points.

Firstly, we asked bidders to show us how they plan to ensure full transparency along the recycling or reselling textile chain. Secondly, we required a strong vision on how recycling of non-reusable clothes was going to be organized. And thirdly, we asked for a risk analysis, since the quality and quantity of textile collection can always vary – something which the contractor needs to be fully aware of. And of course we judged the business case bidders were presenting.

Our contractors buy the textiles we collect in our eight municipalities and usually, contracts were awarded to those who offered the highest price for textiles. Unfortunately, this practices incentivizes unsustainable behaviour!

With this tender we wanted to send the right signal. We set a cap on how much we would ask the contractor to pay us for the textiles – just enough to cover our costs of collection. This price was clear from the start and therefore bidders did not compete on price. Any revenues the operation now has on top of a defined revenue is shared between our contractor and us. In this way we are both incentivized to create economic value within the framework of transparency, sustainability and social employment.

And how did you ensure that bidders came up with robust solutions that fulfilled these criteria?

Key to our success was definitely the intensive market engagement process that characterized the whole tender. Prior to publishing the call for tender, we consulted the market. We invited eight potential market parties and asked them about topics such as the necessary scale for a sorting operation, their sorting process, desired form of organization, possibilities for jobs for people with difficulties joining the workforce, location requirements, transparency and traceability, possible reaction on price and volume fluctuations and treatment of non-reusable textiles.

Based on this consultation we updated the business plan – asking ourselves, what can realistically be achieved? This resulted in a number of pre-conditions for the tender that required the support of our municipalities. On this basis we developed and published the tender. After a selection phase we then entered an intensive market dialogue phase with the selected parties. It was during this phase that we really fleshed out how to achieve everything we had set out to do.

What was the most important advantage of such an intensive process?

The goals we had set after the market consultation for transparency, recycling and creating job opportunities for socially disadvantaged citizens were quite challenging for the bidders. The intensive exchange helped them and us to come up with a good solution. We also involved the social institutions that were our contact for employing people with difficulties finding jobs. 

Which impact did your tender have on the market?

We got a lot of surprising and positive feedback. For one, as I said before, the textile sorting and recycling model is far more ambitious than the business as usual because it achieves higher and traceable rates of recycling and higher rates of reuse of clothes. On top of that, we managed to create jobs for socially disadvantaged groups. Our tender pushed the market in that direction. But even the losing parties thanked us in hindsight, because they learned a lot throughout the market dialogue. This really surprised us but also shows how much need there is to work together if we want to move toward more sustainable solutions in waste management.  

If you had to do it all over again – what are the most important lessons learned?

The most important aspect of this process was its cooperative nature – as purchasers we weren’t sitting across the table from our market parties and testing them. We wanted to create an atmosphere of collaboration, a shared mission that we work towards together. If you challenge the market in a fair way – innovative solutions will come up!

As you said, the textile sector is lagging behind in recycling. Which challenges do you still see ahead?

Most importantly, the recycling of textile materials that cannot be used as clothing anymore is still in its infancy. There are some small brands that use recycled fibre, but most of our fibre is currently down cycled rather than kept in the fibre loop. For example, fibres are used for insulation material instead of new clothes. Here we really need designers and producers of clothes to think with us and produce for recycling, which means using high quality fibres, and non-mixed materials. This allows us to produce high quality fibre which can be used for textile production. The market and the entire supply chain need to develop and adapt in this regard.  

What drives you to change the game in textile recycling?

We are a public service company. Our goals are set by our elected officials and luckily, politics in our region are quite ambitious. The region has the goal to become completely waste-free by 2030. Without this political commitment and broad societal support for our mission we wouldn’t be where we are today.

Thank you so much for speaking with us and good luck for your future ambitions!

In addition to intensifying the high quality recycling of textile and textile fibres, Circulus Berkel is currently also working on a plan to improve the recycling of diapers, which make up 8% of residual waste, improved plastic packaging recycling, extraction of protein from food waste and creating more jobs in the field of recycling, including repair, reuse, and remanufacturing of e-waste



[1] 71% of the collected textiles are exported.

Interview

Helsinki's approach to using sewage waste

7 September 2017

Sector Watch will cover the development of a project by Helsinki Region Environmental Services Authority (HSY) which seeks to develop ideas around the possible use of sewage sludge as a fertiliser product.

HSY is a municipal body responsible for waste management and water services to the Helsinki Metropolitan Area, which also provides information on the city's environment and engages with citizens to on environmental issues:

Water services: HSY supplies high-quality drinking water to over 1 million inhabitants throughout the Helsinki Metropolitan Area. It treats wastewater generated by households and industry in order to protect the Baltic Sea as well as build and repair the water and sewage network.
Waste management: HSY organises waste management for residential properties and the public administration, both in the Helsinki Metropolitan Are and in Kirkkonummi.
Regional and environmental information: HSY monitors the air quality in the Helsinki Metoropolitan Area at 11 monitoring sites. They promote the implementation of the Helsinki Metropolitan Area Climate Strategy 2030 and the Helsinki Metropolitan Area Climate Change Adaptation Strategy.

Impetus and goals in sewage sludge utilisation

At the moment, sewage sludge is composted in HSY's eco-industrial centre in Ämmässuo. Composting requires vast space in surrounding fields and causes strong odour in the surrounding area. In 5 years, it is projected that the amount of sewage to be processed there will double and the space will not be available to absorb this increase. The project therefore seeks to explore other ways of treating and reusing sewage sludge, as well as study methods used elsewhere.


A second impetus to start this project was uncertainty around the potential future use of sewage products as fertiliser in Finland.


The current goals of the project are therefore to:

  • study different kinds of treatment methods for sewage sludge
  • study different options for reuse of sewage sludge
  • to pilot selected treatments in Helsinki

Project process and schedule

The project started in June 2015 and conducted preparatory studies of the different methods employed in Finland and wider across Europe in sewage treatment and reuse. In 2016, market dialogues were conducted which produced small-scale pilots with companies to test the suitability of available technologies. In spring and summer 2017, the pilots were concluded and the results will be analysed by the project team.

In Autumn 2017 the project team will make recommendations based on the pilots of the treatment methods and refer these to a local steering group.

Interview

InnoNet workshop, Brussels 31 January - 1 February

10 February 2017

On 31 January – 1 February took place in Brussels a NEW InnoNet workshop - A practical side of innovations for circular economy.

The workshop connected stakeholders in the field of waste management with the aim to present and discuss real innovation cases, experiences and lessons learned on closing material loops, especially for materials recovered from ICT waste, WEEE, ELV and packaging.

Some of the ongoing and upcoming European initiatives presented at the workshop were the following:

EIT Raw materials

EIT Raw materials – initiated by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), aims to connect academic partners with businesses in Europe to collaborate on finding new innovative solutions to secure the supply of raw materials and improve the performance throughout the value chain, from extraction to the creation of products and its final disposal.

Based in Berlin, the network has currently over 120 partners in 22 EU-countries, which benefit from sharing knowledge, information and expertise.

At the event Ignacio Calleja, thematic officer for circular economy and Recyling at EIT Raw Materials, shared the objectives of EIT Raw materials and some project examples of partnerships between research institutions and the private sector. Some of the supported startups can be consulted here.

More information about EIT Raw materials

The Circular Lab

Rosa Trigo, Tecnology and Innovation Manager at ECOEMBES presented The Circular Lab, a new initiative around the recycling of waste packaging that will see the light in the spring of 2017.

The idea is to bring together all proposals that seek closing loops through innovation in the field of waste packaging. The Circular Lab will be based in La Rioja, Spain and it will turn the region into a great centre for experimentation, as it aims to test at real scale new contributions in the field of:

-    Development of the packaging of the future

-    Integrated waste management within smart cities

-    Responsible consumption

-    Development of new techniques and processes that facilitate the recycling of packaging waste by citizens


More information about the Circular Lab

 

Second life for products: RREUSE

The aim of RREUSE is to reinforce the importance of giving semi-new products a second life. Instead of improving recycling targets, RREUSE advocates for including re-using targets in EU legislation.

The organisation represents social enterprises which are active in reusing, repairing and recycling products and represents approximately 77,000 employees and over 60,000 volunteers and trainees that work at any of their 30 member networks across 18 countries.

Mathieu Rama, policy officer at RREUSE provided an overview of the barriers and challenges of giving products a second life and bringing them back into the market, presented approaches from other countries promoting reuse of products such as Sweden or Austria and suggested recommendations to several EU Directives and the EU Circular Economy Package.

More information about RREUSE

 

Competitive markets for products designed from recycled plastics: ZICLA

G. Borge, Project Manager at ZICLA proved during the event that the market is ready to integrate recycled products made from old products if the required techniques are used.

Some of the most demanded products include the Zebra system, a product made from post-consumption and post-industrial waste that is used to separate bicycle lines from normal car roads and the Vectorial system, used to improve accessibility and mobility for public bus users.

More information about ZICLA