The VALTRIS sorting centre, which has now been fully modernised, is ready to take up the challenge of separating into 14 different fractions the contents of the New Blue Bags of almost 1.7 million residents in the intermunicipal zones of BEP Environnement, BW, Idelux Environnement and Tibi. The new facilities were inaugurated on Monday, 28 June in the presence of the Walloon Minister for the Environment, Céline Tellier, and the CEO of Fost Plus, Patrick Laevers.
Whether you live in Namur, Wavre, Arlon or Charleroi, your New Blue Bag will be sorted by the VALTRIS sorting centre. This impressive facility will in fact sort the contents of the blue bags of almost 1.7 million people living in the provinces of Walloon Brabant, Namur and the Charleroi Region as of 1 July and the province of Luxembourg as of 1 October this year. ‘The inauguration of this new sorting facility, which is at the cutting of technology in this field, enabling more advanced mechanical sorting and an ever better guarantee of high-quality sorting, is an important moment’, declared Walloon Minister Céline Tellier, in charge of the environment, as she went along the platforms and aisles of the modernised VALTRIS plant.
A brief reminder of the history of the sorting centre
This centre’s story began in 2005 when the first sorting chain was implemented. The aim then was to sort around 5,000 tonnes of PMD waste produced in the Charleroi Region. The sorting process was fully manual. Each fraction had to be separated entirely by hand. In 2013, the sorting centre moved on a stage and became VALTRIS, a new-generation automated plant capable of sorting around 22,000 tonnes of PMD produced by the residents of the intermunicipal zones of BEP Environnement, BW and Tibi. Since then, various improvements have, of course, been made to the centre. But nothing to equal the major modernisation of the facility, which is now equipped to deal with the New Blue Bag in full!
Taking a look at the blue bag
The blue PMD bag was introduced in Belgium over 25 years ago. And it proved a success, because Belgium is one of the leading countries in Europe when it comes to sorting and recycling. This is, of course, something that Belgians can be proud of, because by sorting as we do, we open up the way to optimal recycling of used packaging that can serve to produce new goods, save virgin materials and avoid environmental impacts such as energy consumption and CO2 emissions.
But we needed to do even better! And the modernisation of the VALTRIS sorting chain is, of course, the result of the wish to sort the New Blue Bag that emerged from the results of various surveys. In fact, in 2010, Fost Plus conducted an initial survey at the request of its members on extending the sorting instructions to include plastic packaging other than bottles and similar containers. Then in 2013, a survey conducted at the request of IRPC, the Interregional Packaging Commission, confirmed the interest in extending sorting to include all plastic packaging. These surveys provided an impetus and the Regions confirmed their wish to move to collecting all plastic packaging waste, in addition to the traditional packaging waste, in the New Blue Bag.
‘In order to deal with an additional 90,000 tonnes of PMD to be sorted every year, the capacity of the existing sorting centres had to be increased and new technologies had to be incorporated into these centres to sort the new types of materials properly. A call for projects was launched in 2019 and five new sorting centres, or modernised sorting centres, were selected, including VALTRIS’, said Patrick Laevers, CEO of Fost Plus. And he went on: ‘Today’s event is important for recycling and for environmental conservation in general.’
VALTRIS thus becomes Belgium’s third centre, after Willebroek and Evergem, to switch to sorting the New Blue Bag, leading the way for Wallonia.
Minister Tellier explained what Wallonia would like to see: ‘Too much plastic packaging is still incinerated. Eventually, this project will allow us to increase recycling thanks to extended collecting and more accurate sorting. This helps preserve our natural resources and limit the impact of waste on the environment, even if the best waste is waste that does not exist. These investments put Charleroi at the heart of a circular economy with a promising future.’
Phased adaptation at VALTRIS
‘The modernisation work at VALTRIS that was needed to allow the centre to deal with the New Blue Bag began in March 2020 with extensions to the building. This was followed as of March 2021 by the installation of all the new equipment that is essential for sorting the New Blue Bag and will make it possible to process with 40,000 tonnes of PMD per year. It involves a sizeable investment of EUR 22 million, in addition to the previous investments.
After all, the surface area of the building has been more than doubled (to 8,500 m²) and there are now 180 conveyor belts, compared with a hundred previously!’, said Philippe Teller, CEO of VALTRIS and General Manager of Tibi.
VALTRIS was devised in 2013 with a view to sorting PMD into 9 separate fractions. With its new facilities, from now on VALTRIS is to sort the PMD from the New Blue Bag into no fewer than 14 separate fractions, including 5 additional plastic fractions that will also be recycled: tubs, other films, polypropylene, polystyrene and mixed plastics. Such precise sorting of PMD packaging is unique in Europe.
To mark the occasion, VALTRIS has also adopted a new logo, a closed ‘V’ in royal blue, symbolising the link between the partners that have united around this project and the circularity enabled by the sorting. This logo also reaffirms the centre’s wish to be a reliable partner at the service of the public for the sorting of the New Blue Bag.
The New Blue Bag: what changes for the public?
The New Blue Bag brings changes in the sorting rules. The “traditional” PMD bag only took Plastic bottles and containers, Metal packaging and Drinks cartons.
With the New Blue Bag, sorting is simpler because almost all plastic packaging waste can be put in it: pots, punnets, tubs, films, bags, etc.
It is important to remember, however, that the New Blue Bag only takes packaging waste. So plastic objects that are not packaging (boots, buckets, belts, toys, flasks, sandwich boxes, etc.) remain strictly forbidden, as does packaging with a child lock, packaging that held hazardous products, silicone cartridges, etc.
Small plastic objects (unpackaged) will continue to be collected in all the recycling parks in the Tibi zone, as will containers with safety lids (in the household hazardous waste container).
Quality controls will of course still be organised in the interests of the environment and worker safety. “Red hand” stickers will still be put on New Blue Bags if the contents are incorrect.
It should be remembered that as of 1 January 2021, PMD is collected exclusively door to door.
Philippe Teller then shared a few figures: ‘The feedback indicates that the quantity of packaging waste collected in the New Blue Bag may ultimately increase by around 8 kg per person per year (figures confirmed with the 2020 results). And as regards the daily lives of the general public, the blue bag collection dates remain unchanged, as does the price of the New Blue Bag, which is still €0.15 per 60-litre bag. (The old blue bags are to remain valid indefinitely).’
The Belgian recycling targets exceed those of Europe. ‘We aim to find a recycling solution for all household packaging put on the market by 2025’, Patrick Laevers announced.
There are two conditions to be able to create an efficient recycling chain. On the one hand, a constant supply of materials, by means of a top-quality, uniform sorting message. And on the other, good quality in the sorting packaging bales, thanks to advanced technology. ‘As these two conditions have now been met, major investments are being made among other things to create a new recycling centre for PET bottles near VALTRIS, creating new jobs and making Belgium a forerunner in the establishment of a circular packaging economy’, the Fost Plus CEO concluded.