Circularity at SUEZ


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By separating PMD waste, SUEZ contributes to a circular economy in the Waalhaven district of Rotterdam. Plant Manager Klaas Wierda has a dream: to create an ecosystem around waste in the port.

Plastic, metal and drink cartons. SUEZ treats about 100,000 tonnes of PMD waste a year in the Waalhaven. First, a sieve drum removes the large pieces of dirt. Then a high-tech plant sorts the various types of plastic, which are processed by recyclers into granules as a base material for new products. ‘We shake, suck and blow,’ says Wierda during a tour of the sorting hall. ‘Using light reflection, we can detect which material is which. Proper separation allows recycling companies to turn waste into great new products.’

Proper separation allows recycling companies to turn waste into great new products


Closed loop

Instead of incinerating waste, SUEZ closes the loop. For example, a PET bottle can be turned into a completely new PET bottle. Drinks cartons are turned into products such as toilet paper and tissues. Even mixed plastic streams are processed into new products, such as planters and watering cans. Only the waste flow, which like textiles often contains food residue, is sent to the ReEnergy waste power plant in Roosendaal to be incinerated and converted into usable energy. This currently represents about a quarter of the incoming waste. Wierda: ‘You can’t completely avoid this waste flow, but we are doing everything we can to make it as small as possible. For example, every year we launch an appeal on social media not to put Christmas tree netting in plastic recycling bins. This has proven to be a success because each year we are fishing out fewer nets.’

Awareness and education

Since SUEZ built its first sorting plant in the Waalhaven in 2011, volumes have grown strongly. This was the reason why the plant was expanded in 2015. ‘Together, we are separating more waste. Local authorities must meet the ‘VANG’ (Van Afval Naar Grondstof) waste separation targets: From Waste to Raw Materials. This ambitious target is to reduce the amount of residual domestic waste that ends up being incinerated from 250 kg to 100 kg per citizen per year.’ Although the flow of residual waste is shrinking, Wierda still sees a lot of potential for improvement. ‘We have been separating organic waste, glass and paper for years, but we still need to raise awareness when it comes to textiles and PMD waste. Part of this calls for civic education provided by local authorities: what goes in the PMD recycling bin and what is residual waste? In order to keep local authorities on their toes, we occasionally send a shipment back because it contains too many things we don’t want. In areas where residents separate their own plastic waste, other waste streams are also sorted better. In the Netherlands, every local authority has its own recycling policy. These need to be aligned with each other. Obviously there are going to be differences from district to district; after all, you can’t expect people living on the fifth floor of a building without a lift to separate everything.’

My dream is to create an ecosystem around waste in the port

Sustainable packaging

Zero waste? Wierda believes that although this is a utopia, it is also a laudable ambition and, in particular, a supply chain process involving a huge number of links. It starts with correctly separated waste. This requires packaging that is manufactured in such a way that makes it easily recyclable. For several years, SUEZ has been advising the packaging industry on this matter. Wierda regularly meets with sector representatives in the Waalhaven. As an economist and a chemical engineer, he knows that there is always a reason for using a certain material in packaging. ‘From a marketing perspective, it makes a lot of sense to pack detergent for dark fabrics in black plastic bottles; however, our plant can’t detect them. Cheese and meat packaging often consists of several materials: a plastic tray, a cardboard sleeve and a film wrap. A bread bag is part paper and part plastic, which is a tragedy! We advise on how to make packaging recyclable. Plastic in and of itself is infinite; it can be reused seven to ten times over. If we reuse it twice, we’re already doing the right thing. However, things are starting to pick up momentum. We are gradually heading towards a future where rather than being the end of something, waste is the beginning of something new.’

Good neighbour

SUEZ focuses on sustainability in many parts of its own supply chain. In the centre of The Hague, the company shares a white dustcart with other waste collection companies to minimise disruption to residents, traffic and the environment. The roof of the factory in the Waalhaven is covered with solar panels, and the thermal energy extracted from producing compressed air is used to heat the building. As well as being a good employer, SUEZ also wishes to be a good neighbour to the surrounding businesses and Heijplaat’s residents. On and around the site, there is no litter to be seen. The company invested 1.5 million euros to minimise the nuisance caused by odours and flies. Wierda has held many talks on the issue with local residents. ‘We’ve completely sealed off our sorting hall, and we no longer store anything outside. We have also stopped composting. To improve the working climate, we have insulated the roof of the sorting hall and installed a ventilation system. We filter the air we blow outside, monitor the number of flies in the factory and have them controlled every four weeks. These are major investments, but we’re glad we made them and we trust that these changes will create improvement for everyone involved.’

Ecosystem around waste

SUEZ has many more ideas for optimising its sorting plant in the Waalhaven so it can respond even better to the needs of recyclers. In addition, Wierda hopes to be able to take further steps in the future: ‘Although a lot of sorting is done in the Netherlands, the processing companies are mainly in France and Germany. Consequently, we transport a lot of air. By shortening journeys, we will make gains in terms of sustainability. My dream is to create an ecosystem around waste in the port, with processing companies located nearby and purchasing waste streams from us. We are also looking into the possibility of constructing our own processing plant. For this we will need both physical space and planning permission, in addition to a lot of parties who agree to our being here. We hope the Port of Rotterdam Authority will continue to support us. The Waalhaven is a fantastic site that can easily be reached by our employees: 150 professionals who are passionate about their profession!’


The Port of Rotterdam Authority and Circle Economy have mapped the current waste flows throughout the port as well as companies that are employing circular activities, and the opportunities to develop new circular activities in the port.

Download the report

Step 3 Towards a new raw materials and fuel system


This step involves the replacement of fossil fuels. This can be done through the use of biomass, recycled materials, green hydrogen and CO2.

Read more about the 3 steps to a carbon neutral port


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