Waste not Want Not
Averda's COO Jeroen Vincent talks to fmME
Averda’s COO Jeroen Vincent talks to fmME on how waste needs to be seen as a valuable resource, instead of just garbage
With more than ten years of experience in the waste management industry in Europe, Jeroen Vincent seems to be well placed in his role as the chief operating officer (COO) at averda, the largest environmental solutions provider in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.
Having joined the company only a few months ago, Vincent is a newcomer to the Gulf, but he is quick to say that he has been very impressed with what he has seen of the waste management industry in the region.
“I was highly surprised by the level of automation and infrastructure in the region,” Vincent says.
“The awareness here about the need to have a proper waste management ecosystem in place is now, I think, bigger than ever. So, it’s an interesting time period for the industry in the region. It’s time now for the execution of the transition from moving waste away from landfills, and on to better and smarter models.”
Diverting waste away from landfills has become an important target for many countries in the Middle East.
Statistics claim that waste generation in the Gulf countries will go up from 22m tonnes in 2010 to 29.07m tonnes in 2017. Sustainable waste management has thus become more of a urgent need than a nominal CSR agenda, and companies like averda have been tackling this challenge head-on.
One of averda’s most notable projects in this regard has been its landfill gas-to-energy (LFGTE) project in Lebanon.
Located at Naameh, the country’s biggest sanitary-controlled landfill serving the Greater Beirut and Mount Lebanon area, the landmark project that converts waste into energy is the first of its kind in Lebanon, and is estimated to generate 637 kilowatts of renewable electricity.
Averda accomplishes this by capturing methane from the landfill gas (which is made up of approximately 55% methane and 45% carbon dioxide), and using that as a fuel to produce electricity. Besides the obvious energy benefits, the project also eliminates the equivalent of about 12,400 tons of carbon dioxide, which is equivalent to the amount of emissions produced by about 6,100 cars in a year.
Vincent says that the Naameh project is a good example of averda’s innovative attitude towards waste management. “The philosophy for us is to approach waste not as garbage, but instead, treat it as a valuable resource,” he explains.
“We take this material out of the earth, make a product out of it, sell it, distribute it, and we therefore make sure that we are adding value to all stages of the cycle.”
Rethinking its waste management strategy has meant a change in the way averda do their business as well, Vincent says.
“For us, it’s very exciting to change the business model from being drivers of [waste disposal] trucks to becoming the operator of recycling facilities and landfills,” he says. “We are now being seen as an integrated waste solution provider.”
However, this change in identity requires averda to deal with a new set of challenges as well. For one, there will be customers who will need to be convinced on why they need to change their existing waste management processes.
Vincent says that their focus needs to turn away from being solely on waste, and that they should instead look at the wider picture, so as to bring value at all aspects of the waste management cycle.
“We want to be onsite with our customers,” he says. “That’s where we want to be, and that’s where we want to be present, because that’s where you can change systems. That’s where you can make a decision on whether the end product is to be marked as waste, or if it can be better utilized for some other purpose.”
Using the Lebanon LFGTE project as an example, Vincent explains, “We offtake the methane gas produced in the landfill, we clean it, we burn it as a fuel for our gas generators to use as electricity, which is very beneficial. But the whole chain before this process is more interesting actually, since that’s when we mechanically and biologically treat the waste.”
“We first screen the waste, thereby separating the organic materials from the rest,” he continues.
“The green waste ends up in composting to be reused as fertilizer, while we take out the other half, which includes plastics, ferrous and non-ferrous metals. Our technology is on the level that we can also regranulate the plastics from the waste, allowing it to be reused to make anything from park benches to other mixed plastic products.”
All of this is possible thanks to averda’s presence at the actual landfill site, a practice which, Vincent hopes, will become an industry norm soon.
“It’s a very exciting future, where we transition into managing the waste process from within the customer premises,” he says. “We will then jointly take the responsibility with them to create an economically viable cycle.”
Vincent also recognises the need for a change in behavior and attitudes for the development of the waste management sector.
“It’s a different kind of business model, and for that, you need different skill sets, different people, different behaviours,” he says. “It has to be a good mix of the old and the new, and it also has to be a very dynamic process.”
To spread the idea that waste can become a valuable commodity, awareness, training and incentive programs are another area the industry will need to focus on, says Vincent.
Averda, for instance, has seen much success with its reverse-vending machines installed at various sites. “I think in the future, consumers will have to shoulder the responsibility of returning the materials they take back into the cycle,” Vincent predicts.
Legislation will also be needed to ensure that the evolution of the environmental industry, Vincent adds. “The fact is that without legislation, or without economic benefits, nothing really happens in this business,” he says.
“So the aim must be to not just guarantee a sustainable future, but also to gain the profits one can make out of investments in waste management.” Vincent adds that averda’s role in realizing this future is an important one.
“Our position as a traditional waste collector has now changed into a more integrated service and solutions provider,” he says.
“This means that we are now able to integrate within the customers’ premises, and take responsibility of their recycling targets, optimizing their logistics, taking care of investment, etc.”
“The time for talking is over,” he declares. “We are the executors of this new model. We are coming up with real, concrete solutions; having conversations in both the public and commercial domains. As a market leader, we can play a valuable role in rethinking how we do waste management.”
Averda Fact Sheet
• 3 continents presence
• 35+ years of experience
• 7,500+ employees (and growing)
• 7,500,000+ population served every day
• 2,700+ km cleaned per day
• 72,000+ containers on site