Study visit to VITO and :metabolon
ReNEW led a study visit to Belgium and Germany in October 2014 to examine the economic potential of innovation in resource recovery from European waste. The visit to VITO and :metabolon has had a major political impact on how the project is viewed in Northern Ireland, and politicians in Belfast, who were among those participating in the study visit, have been quick to capture the vision promoted by ReNEW.
Having returned to the city they immediately lobbied the Council’s Chief Executive on the importance of Belfast considering how it could benefit from such an approach. Consequently, the Council’s Head of Waste Management, Tim Walker - who accompanied the politicians as part of the ReNEW team – was requested to produce a materials strategy for Belfast. The idea of re-designating his position to ‘Head of Materials Management’ has also been discussed!
This leap forward in Belfast’s thinking is a direct result of the ReNEW project. Tim is now developing terms of reference (ToR) for the strategy. The ToR will define the purpose, objectives and scope of the strategy, as well as the roles of various parties. The strategy will form an integral part of the Council’s next “Towards Zero Waste” Action Plan.
Four politicians representing the NI Assembly Committee for the Environment participated in the study visit and have reported on their experiences.
As a result of the knowledge gained by policy makers and business advisors from the visit, Northern Ireland’s Environment Minister has cited the ReNEW project as helping to formulate future NI strategy on the management of materials.
Politicians and policymakers were among those who visited Belgium and Germany in October to examine policy development and facilities in relation to materials strategy and resource recovery. The visit gave them an opportunity to investigate an alternative to recycling whereby waste is refined and reused, rather than being recycled.
The first venue was VITO, at Mol, where the group also met representatives from OVAM, the Public Waste Agency of Flanders, and heard how policy transition must precede and accompany any technological transition in waste management.
A practical demonstration of the industry-linked work at VITO focusing on the production of biopolymers and biochemicals from dairy and paper waste was given by Dr Heleen DeWever, as well as an overview of how this type of technology can move into the commercial sphere.
The group then travelled to the Waste Disposal Centre at Leppe, 30km east of Cologne in Germany, where the :metabolon project is based. Since the 1980s the 100-acre plus site has been the central landfill waste site for the entire region, but in 2010 a new strategy recognised the need for an efficient management of waste materials and reused resources, giving the area a new value and new appearance.
The metabolon project aims to redevelop the Centre by turning it into a competence, learning and innovation site for material conversion and location-related environmental technology and techniques. Metabolon provides a technology facility with state-of-the-art pilot plants and equipment which can transfer research results into industrial practice. It also participates in a broad international network of research partners collaborating on innovative technical and structural solutions.
Following an extensive tour of the facilities, the group heard from Professor Michael Bongards, from the Cologne University of Applied Sciences, as well as representatives from Zenit, which brings together potential partners from industry and science to collaborate in helping small and medium-sized businesses bring new technology to the market.