The business of waste

Based in the world's waste management heartland, DD Recycling is profitably applying high production processing techniques to other peoples' rubbish. Beatrice Cardon reports from Antwerp, Belgium.



There is a certain appropriateness to the location of DD Recycling's eight hectare site on the outskirts of Belgium's port province of Antwerp. Until the 1960s it was an enormous land fill site; a dumping ground for other people's discarded rubbish. Today, the unsightly blot on the landscape may have been covered with neat concrete - but the site is still dealing with other people's throwaways. Even in a small, neat country like Belgium there is an enormous amount of waste every year - and the biggest contributor is construction waste.

Did you know that the average house, when demolished, generates 135 tonnes of waste - and that even in ultra-environmentally conscious Belgium over 10 million tonnes of building waste are amassed each year? Gone are the days when you could just dump it all in big holes in the ground; in fact dumping is banned in Belgium and construction waste must be sorted and reused as much as possible. Belgium is not alone in this, The Netherlands, Denmark and certain parts of Germany are also at the leading edge of recycling legislation. This trend is spreading out into the regions' neighbours in the United Kingdom and Eastern Europe - and also as far afield as Southern European countries. Alas, the recycling philosophy has yet to make much headway in the Land of Conspicuous Consumption - the United States - although even here it cannot be long before the benefits are fully realized and supported.

The demolition business has gone from being one of hard men doing a hard (and dangerous) job into a big, skilful and integrated business. Now the demolition supply chain is professional, with 'demolition' giving way to 'dismantling' and 'dumping' giving way to 'architectural salvage'. Much of the waste needs to be sorted - and this needs to be done efficiently if to be profitable. This is where DD Recycling comes in…

18:08/18/08

Launched on the 18th day of the 8th month - at 18:08 in 2004, DD Recycling is a 50% joint venture between Groupe De Dijcker and Karel De Cuyper. The former was founded in 1923 as a bulk haulage company, while the latter is a long term recycling expert. It has needed both of these skills to make DD Recycling a success. In only a few months of operation hundreds of thousands of tonnes of waste has been reprocessed, much of this has been collected from building sites in Group De Dijcker's 100 strong fleet of trucks.

Efficiency is the key to making money in this business. Although contractors pay to have waste removed from their sites - and the processed material also has a resale value, construction waste remains essentially high volume, low value. Therefore the transport needs to be cost effective and the processing fast and efficient. Being based on the banks of the Brussels-Schelde Sea Canal, the company has a choice of how best to transport waste material (i.e. road or waterway). This is a rarity in a highly competitive business - and an aspect that is likely to prove decisive in determining the players that remain long term. "There is a lot of competition," says Karel De Cuyper.  "In Flanders alone (northern part of Belgium), there are 175 such companies."  And Frans d'Haese, general manager of Group De Dijcker adds: "At most 10% of those are close to waterways and I think that those are the ones that will remain, because they are more flexible in their transport solutions.  The more alternatives you have, the better you are prepared for the future."

The real key to success in waste management is not location - but process, and this is where construction equipment comes into play. Shifting, processing, stockpiling and reloading graded material needs machines with fast cycle times and maximum uptime. The Group started using Volvo CE equipment 15 years ago and today owns three L120Cs, two L120E, two L150E, one L180 and one L180E wheel loaders, as well as three A25C Volvo articulated haulers and two EC290B Volvo excavators.

The flow of incoming trucks with raw waste and a corresponding flow of outbound trucks with processed trucks are relentless at the site. One of the EC290B excavators sits atop a waste heap working quickly to keep up with the continuous inflow of new waste material while a L180E Volvo wheel loader pushes back the material to make space for more, before rushing off to load an outbound truck or a Volvo articulated hauler with recycled material.

The excavators deposit incoming waste into a primary breaker that separates the brick and concrete from the steel reinforcement, the latter being removed by powerful electro-magnets. The remaining waste is then crushed into four different particle sizes (1-10mm, 10-20mm, 20-40mm and 40mm+) and any light material (e.g. wood chippings) are blown out of the waste using air jets. The masonry material is then screened and separated into differing particle sizes. A Volvo L180E wheel loader loads this material into a Volvo A25C articulated hauler which in turn deposits material in larger stockpile for onward transportation. Most of this processed material finds itself back in the construction industry, typically as bedding material for building and road sub-bases. (The maximum recycled material is 30% under EU laws.) Many of the Volvo machines are not single use, but move rapidly around the bustling site to undertake multiple duties.

The equipment at DD Recycling works a 3,000 hour year. Maintenance of the Volvo equipment is handled by a combination of local dealer VCM Belgium and DD Recyclings's own engineering department. Head of heavy equipment at the company is Tom De Clercq, who places a high priority on preventative maintenance. He calls in his local Volvo dealer to run the MATRIS (MAchine TRacking Information System) fitted to the machines. Not only does this check the status of the system and highlights potential problem areas, it can also be used to help operators use the machines in a more cost effective or efficient manner. The Volvo machines are popular members of the equipment team at DD Recycling, with operators keen to be assigned to them. The operators also have a significant say in the equipment that is purchased. "If an operator does not get the machine he wants, it won't last long," believes DD general manager Frans d'Haese, who also has an enlightened view of equipment procurement from an executive level. "When buying a piece of equipment," he insists, "you should not only look at the purchase price - like the Excel boys.  Fuel consumption, productivity, flexibility, resale value, ease and comfort of operation are all part of the equation.  But the most important is your relationship with the dealer.  It has to be one of trust.  You have to know that you can count on your dealer, and that he keeps his promises."

The working environment of these machines may be flat concrete, and the nearby canal fresh water (and therefore not as corrosive as salty sea water) - but the dusty conditions do demand a rigorous filter changing regime. In fact, Tom De Clercq insists that oil and filters are changed sooner than recommended in the operators' manual. This extra expense in preventative maintenance is made worthwhile in a 24 hour business where machines cannot afford unexpected downtime.

The team at DD Recycling may be in the business of waste management for its commercial attraction. But it is in the fortuitous position of not only being profitable but also providing a public service. And with the help of Volvo CE equipment - whose own core values include 'Care for the Environment' - it is destined to continue turning unwanted scrap into a valuable commodity for some time to come.