Christophe Maquet, Executive Vice President and Director - Energy, Waste and Industrial Water at Veolia in Japan
Veolia in Japan set up a Plastic Recycling department in 2016… What was the context for this initiative?
It’s worth remembering that Veolia in Japan was created in 2002 with a single business line: managing municipal or even industrial water. 2014 saw the beginning of our development beyond the Water activities. First of all, with the growth of the Energy business through biomass projects, then with the opening of the waste market. Veolia’s international positioning in the field of plastic recycling struck a chord in Japan, a country in which the recycling rate is much higher than in Europe. In 2016, Veolia acquired three companies in the same group to roll out this business line. Traditionally, Japan has prioritized two recycling methods: incineration and mechanical processing. The introduction of the 3Rs policy — Reduce, Reuse, Recycle — in 2000 went hand in hand with an extremely high waste collection rate, leading to a loss of market share for incineration. This was a great opportunity for Veolia, which could thus hope to see an automatic increase in the volume of material to be recycled in a strictly regulated market.
In addition to its industrial knowhow, what can Veolia offer in this pioneering country?
There is a paradox in Japan when it comes to plastic consumption. The obsession with impeccable packaging means that almost everything is packaged — even individual pieces of fruit — sometimes in several layers. This country, which is so focused on recycling and the 3Rs rule, cannot manage to get people to understand that you must consume less plastic from the outset. This change in attitude will not happen overnight! Given this context, education and awareness-raising among the population and public and private decision makers is one of Veolia’s concerns. We are taking this approach, especially through our partnership with the Tara expedition, which has come to Japan twice. In 2017, Tara made a dozen stopovers in different ports around the country to meet the general public, particularly schoolchildren. At each port of call, Veolia organized on-board visits with local clients, partners and staff to raise their awareness about plastic pollution in the oceans.
What role does Japan play in terms of plastic waste management in the Asia zone?
A major role, especially as the high quality of its plastic raw material is widely recognized worldwide. There are significant plastic waste flows between Asian countries. However, in January 2018, the Chinese government announced the “Chinese ban,” which prohibits plastic waste and sorted plastic of a certain quality from entering its territory. This has had a major impact on Japan, which must cope with a noticeable increase in the volume of plastic waste to be recycled within its borders.