The New Blue Bag,

a guarantee of success

for the circular economy

The New Blue Bag has given a significant boost to the circular economy in our country. The expanded collection of PMD brings almost 100,000 additional tons of packaging materials to the market and attracts investment in local processing capacity. With five new sorting centers and five new recycling plants, Belgium is gradually becoming a true recycling hub in Europe.

“The circular packaging economy not only has a positive impact on the recycling figures, but also gives the local economy a boost.”

Mik Van Gaever

COO

New Blue Bag for all Belgians

Friday, 1 October 2021 was a day to remember. That was the day when the New Blue Bag was introduced into the Idelux intermunicipal company (province of Luxembourg), so that all Belgians had access to the expanded PMD collection. It also means that after a transition period, we once again have a uniform collection scenario throughout the country, from Ostend to Arlon. Which in turn means that the composition and quality of the materials are the same everywhere, so that we can streamline processes in the sorting centres much better. It also makes communication about the sorting rules a lot easier.

The Belgians have clearly taken the new sorting message on board. The quantities collected are rising very fast towards the targets set. We can see that for the intermunicipal companies that have been active for more than a year, the figures are close to the 23 kg of PMD per inhabitant per year and sometimes even exceed it. Of course, there is still room for improvement. We are still seeing significant differences in the collection figures of individual regions and intermunicipal companies.

In addition, a recent survey shows that consumers still have doubts about whether certain types of packaging can be put in the PMD. For instance, the situation as regards plastic biscuit wrappers, plastic detergent bottles, aluminium lasagne trays, metal spray cans and toothpaste tubes remains unclear. So we are working hard to raise awareness further, in close collaboration with intermunicipal companies and local authorities. The national campaign launched at the start of 2022 also puts sorting top-of-mind again among the general public.

Four new sorting centres operational

The expansion of the PMD sorting rules is impacting significantly on the entire chain that follows, and the sorting centres in particular. Whereas in the past, the number of types of plastic in the blue PMD bag was limited to two – PET and HDPE bottles and flasks – packaging made of polypropylene (PP), polystyrene (PS), PET trays and films have now been added. So we needed totally new, high-tech sorting centres able to sort all this plastic packaging properly by type.

In 2019, Fost Plus issued the first invitations to tender for five new sorting centres which are to sort the packaging from the New Blue Bag for the next nine years. Four of the five centres are now already fully operational: Indaver (Willebroek), Prezero (Evergem), Valtris (Couillet) and Val’Up (Mons). Construction on the final sorting centre, Sitel in Liège, began in November. This is scheduled to be operational by the end of 2022. Approximately 90% of the packaging that we collect via the New Blue Bag is already being processed in the new sorting centres.

They combine new and existing technologies, including drum sieves, wind shifters and infrared cameras, to sort the PMD packaging into fourteen uniform fractions, ready for further recycling. They also provide the necessary flexibility to be able to further refine and expand the collection scenarios in the future.

For instance, since 1 January 2022, metal spray cans have also been accepted in the PMD bag. Previously, only food and cosmetics sprays can were allowed in the PMD.

As recycling technologies and markets develop, the New Blue Bag can be opened up to additional packaging.

Recycling on Belgian soil

The packaging that we collect is recycled in Belgium and our neighbouring countries. For plastic packaging, however, the proportion was relatively limited. With the New Blue Bag, we are going a step further and attracting companies that want to invest in new recycling capacity here in Belgium. Whereas in 2020, just 9% of the plastic packaging was recycled in Belgium, the planned projects mean that this figure should rise to over 75% at short term.

In 2020, Ecoo in Houthalen-Helchteren invested in an extra recycling line for mixed plastics and mixed films from the New Blue Bag. In May 2021, the company began construction on a new recycling plant for polyethylene film, together with Biostoom Beringen. This is used, among other things for the outer packaging of drinks bottles or plastic bags. The new plant will have a capacity of 42,000 tonnes, including 25,000 tonnes from the New Blue Bag.

In Charleroi, construction work on FILAO, a plant for the bottle-to-bottle recycling of PET bottles, began in October 2021. This project involves cooperation between Veolia and Sources ALMA, a bottled water producer and market leader in Belgium. The plant has the capacity to recycle 40,000 tonnes of PET per year and serves as a model for the circular economy. Bottles that we collect and sort in Belgium are processed here to provide raw materials for new bottles that will largely be sold on the Belgian market.

FILAO, a plant for the bottle-to-bottle recycling of PET bottles in Charleroi

In early 2022, we announced a fourth recycling plant in Belgium. This is being built in Neufchâteau by the Dutch company Morssinkhof Rymoplast Groep and focuses on complex PET packaging. Over the coming nine years, 10,500 tonnes of PET trays and 17,500 tonnes of PET bottles (including opaque PET) from the New Blue Bag will be recycled here every year, mainly to provide raw materials for new trays and bottles.

Finally, after a call for projects for the PP/HDPE fractions, in the first quarter of 2022 exclusive negotiations began for a fifth recycling plant on Belgian soil.

PROJECT IN THE SPOTLIGHT

Alternative transportation for PMD

Recycling packaging brings significant environmental gains. However, we must not be blind to the negative impact of certain activities in the recycling chain. For instance, we are thinking here of transporting the packaging collected by truck. In 2021, we looked into the possibilities for alternative means of transport.