The role of waste management companies is constantly evolving and, with that, we have seen significant innovation and investment in the sector. Ahead of the World Waste to Energy and Resources Summit, we caught up with SUEZ CEO, David Palmer-Jones to discuss the changing role of waste management companies and where he sees the greatest potential for growth.
1. What is the greatest challenge facing the waste sector? How has the role of waste management companies changed as a result?
The greatest challenge facing the sector is for companies like SUEZ to complete the transition from
a historic role of delivering environmentally-compliant waste disposal to a new and future role of “resource management” – which requires a much wider spectrum of activities, new capabilities and mastery of more complex value chains to ensure the materials discarded by society are put to best use.
On our current trajectory, the waste sector is becoming a vital part of the value chain, instead of sitting at the end of it, and we therefore need to ensure that we understand and act across the chain, from design through to manufacturing, retailing, consumption, discarding, harvesting, recycling or repairing and returning to the market.
To do this places a greater emphasis on a broader range of skills and experience, so that we can become not just skilled, customer-centric, service-providers, but also expert practitioners regardless of where we are engaging in the value chain.
2. Where do you see the most potential for growth within the waste to energy market? Which areas of technology are most exciting?
We recently published a report entitled Mind the Gap 2, which is an extension of our long-running analysis and forecasting of the energy-from-waste market capacity in the UK. The report clearly shows that there is still more investment needed in large-scale energy from waste infrastructure, in many regions across the UK, in order to replace the volumes once served by landfill with a more sustainable alternative.
In the past two years alone, SUEZ has completed three new energy-from-waste power plants and we are due to complete a fourth new plant to add to our portfolio this year – together delivering over a million tonnes of sustainable residual waste treatment capacity.
Increasingly, going forward, I believe new energy facilities must be at the heart of inter-modal logistics systems, using road and rail to create resilience, and that enhanced opportunities exist by closely embedded them into industrial areas – much like our plant at Wilton - where chemical and fuel producers have the potential to make use of the steam, heat and power produced.
3. SUEZ has partnered with British Airways to create jet fuel from waste. Could you tell us a bit more about the drivers behind the project and anticipated deliverables?
SUEZ has been working on new ways of making fuels and chemicals from waste from many years. We started with the liquid biomethane facility in Surrey in 2006, using landfill gas, and have since invested in our End of Life Plastic to liquid fuel plant in Bristol, as well as a number of innovative start-up companies looking at this area – helping us to explore and learn about new technology, markets and new market factors.
The project with British Airways continues to explore that potential, but brings in industrial partners who understand each major phase of the process as we explore the technical and commercial viability of the opportunity. At the moment, our goals for this project are to determine the optimum technology combinations and an economic model that might support continued investment before considering what role each of the parties might play in a longer term, industrialised, solution.
4. SUEZ has long been associated with innovation and the resource revolution. What other areas of waste and environmental innovation are SUEZ focussed on? What should we expect to see over the coming months/years?
In a sector that is rapidly changing, continual learning and innovation is essential to ensure the business moves forward. Investing in research and development, in order to broaden our knowledge base, capabilities and commercial offering is essential to us as a forward-looking business. In particular, we are working to ensure that traditional solutions evolve, with the availability of new technology or digital solutions, as this holds huge potential to increasingly make better use of waste material in more flexible and agile ways.
Data, more than anything else, is key to the future of the business, as it helps us to drive waste prevention (which is at the heart of the “resource-management” business) and offer smart solutions to our customers – which themselves are driven by a wider awareness of the role of businesses to act responsibly and play a part in protecting the environment.
Of course, there are also a number of really exciting practical innovations in the pipeline too, such as SUEZ’s investment in NextAlim, which is looking at ways of creating protein sources from pre-consumer food waste. These types of technologies have the potential to really change the long-term fortunes of societies around the world.
5. What new trends or market activity are you watching in the industry? Any future predictions for the sector that you would like to share?
In terms of trends, the integration of digital technology into traditional waste management technology and systems is something we’re seeing more of and this is driving the data generation that will unlock the next steps of innovation within the sector. Similarly, we are starting to see a swing towards more decentralised waste management solutions.
Further into the future, I predict that we will see “waste” products achieving a much higher value as our industry becomes better integrated within and across supply chains.
6. And finally, if you could summarise the waste sector in three words, what would they be?
I would take the three words which have provided the driving force behind SUEZ’s transformation over the past decade.
NO MORE WASTE
Don’t miss out on David Palmer-Jones, CEO
of Suez Recycling and Recovery UK, speaking on the CEO Waste Management Debate
at the World Waste to Energy and Resources Summit in London this May 23-24.