In the eighties, the increasing scarcity of natural resources and growing environmental awareness led to the creation of a real recycling industry. Sorting and recycling sectors were formed and took shape, thanks to the implementation of a national industrial and household waste management policy and the definition of objectives for waste recovery. Citizens, too, learned everyday recycling habits. Veolia has accompanied these developments with the automation of its industrial facilities. The Amiens sorting center* today recovers 85% of the packaging, paper and cardboard received.
Philippe Herdhebaut, Director of the Waste sorting and recovery operational unit, Amiens
The quality controller, a highly valued job…
“Our areas of activity use increasingly complex tools. With each innovative technology put in place, we improve working conditions, limiting the repetitive movements associated with manual sorting. This makes a major contribution to occupational risk prevention and staff health and safety. In 2013, the innovative technical solutions adopted — TSA2® auto-adaptive sequential sorting and remotely operated sorting – enabled us not only to boost productivity (see key figures boxed text above) but also make a decisive breakthrough with regard to sorters, radically transforming their professional practices. From now on, the sorter’s responsibility is to control the combined sorting equipment upstream and correct errors; they check the quality of the “finished product,” which is now a reusable good, strictly complying with the specifications defined by eco-friendly waste management bodies. These jobs now demand a greater sense of responsibility. Our goal is to transition the position of sorter to that of quality controller or even, in the future, quality engineer. Computerized monitoring of state-of-the-art tools also requires ongoing training to keep the skills of the staff in charge of their maintenance up to date. This is important to us, especially as good training bonds teams together.”
The technological waste recovery revolution
Director of the Amiens center’s Waste sorting and recovery operational unit, Philippe Herdhebaut has witnessed and participated in its modernization: “Back in 2006,” he recalls, “the rise in the volume of waste required disruptive technology in order to offer new sorting capacities. So we launched a complete renovation of the site, which was completed in 2013.”
With the gradual automation of the sorting lines and, more recently, the arrival in 2018 of Max-AI® – a robot equipped with an articulated arm and artificial intelligence (see boxed text p. 24), the Center is nowadays able to recover 85% of the total volume of waste from local authorities (jars, tubs, bottles, plastic bags and films, cans, cardboard, etc.).
This performance goes far beyond the national target of 75% set by the public authorities. To answer the calls for proposals made in 2013 by Eco-emballages (which became Citeo in 2017), the site decided to accelerate its technological transition by entirely automating its sorting process. Relying on the Group’s know-how, it acquired TSA2® (auto-adaptive sequential sorting) technology, which makes it possible to automatically sort all types of plastic resins according to their material and color. This optical process patented by Veolia has been combined with remotely operated sorting that allows remote quality control.
“We used to recover three types of plastic resins at Amiens in 2013, and we are now up to six!” says Philippe Herdhebaut enthusiastically.
Training operators: the key to a successful transition
This technological change entailed an unprecedented evolution in the operators’ work. From the outset, restructuring the Amiens sorting center has been a human resources issue. Guidance and training were required for the operator-sorters in the move from manual sorting to its complete automation.
This transition phase lasted two years in Amiens, “with the support of ergonomists and sociologists from the Group’s Research and Innovation department,” adds Philippe Herdhebaut.
This support prevails throughout increasingly complex technological leaps: a former sorter becomes a quality controller capable of detecting machine errors. The maneuvers are safer, gradually carried out via a screen. And with the imminent arrival of a robot sorter on the site, the worker will continue their training to learn how to control this mechanical companion with artificial intelligence, which will play a decisive role in tomorrow’s sorting performance.
THE AMIENS CENTER: KEY FIGURES
- 450 000 inhabitants served, including 38% in the Amiens Metropolis sector.
- 22 000 metric tons of household waste treated each year.
- 25 employees, including 12 operators (sorters, team leaders, characterization workers and machine operators).
And the introduction of innovative technical solutions (TSA2® and remotely operated sorting) in 2014 has led to:
- 2,5 times more waste sorted per hour,
- 6 % household packaging recovered.
* The site encompasses two activities: sorting and packing separate household waste collections, and sorting industrial waste.