Geocycle – Zero Waste Future

Rethinking waste challenges and providing innovative solutions to them is the core business of Switzerland-based Geocycle.

Geocycle is a leading provider of industrial, agricultural and municipal waste management services worldwide. The company applies the proven technology of ‘co-processing’ and utilises existing facilities in the cement industry to resolve waste challenges sustainably. Geocycle manages more than 10 million tonnes of waste annually, thus making a tangible contribution to bringing society a step closer to a zero-waste future.

“We provide customised, future-oriented waste management solutions by leveraging our technological expertise, highly skilled employees, standardised systems and processes. This enables us to recover energy and recycle minerals from waste, leaving no residue,” says CEO Axel Pieters.

The company’s history is closely linked to that of its parent company, the Holcim Group. Since the 1970s, Holcim has pioneered the co-processing of waste materials in cement kilns, and have developed innovative and tailored industrial and municipal waste management solutions for a wide range of customers for decades. Geocycle leverages the rich experience of its parent company to offer highly specialised waste management services and benefits from its global footprint as well as its solid financial position.

The full circle

Geo means ‘earth’ in Greek. Cycle evokes recycling. But it also suggests a larger process – the regenerative cycle in nature where waste materials become the foundation for creating new life. The name Geocycle alludes to the ‘holistic’ nature of the business: turning waste into energy and recycled materials. By this, Geocycle drives a regenerative, circular economy that closes resource cycles.

Headquartered in Switzerland, Geocycle employs 2,000 people in around 50 countries. The waste is collected from three different sectors – agriculture, industry, and – the largest proportion – from municipalities. “Waste management is a big challenge in the developed world, particularly in Europe, but to be honest, the biggest opportunities are in countries like the Philippines, Bangladesh, Costa Rica and others that are not so advanced in their environmental thinking,” says Mr Pieters, who himself spent a large part of his career in developing countries.

He explains that the key to the Geocycle approach is co-processing – a globally recognised technology through which waste is treated in energy-intensive industries such as cement. During co-processing, the mineral part of the waste replaces primary mineral materials (such as limestone, clay or iron) and the combustible part provides the energy needed for cement manufacturing. As a result, 100% of the waste input is recycled and recovered without producing any residue.

Before it can be safely co-processed, the waste generally needs to undergo a preparation process i.e., pre-processing, so that the resulting product complies with the technical specifications of cement production and guarantees that environmental standards are met.

“The pre-processing technology we use before co-processing makes us unique. Depending on the country and the particular situation, we can apply the most suitable technology, be it sorting, shredding or drying, for all of which we have set up state-of-the-art in-house facilities,” affirms Mr Pieters, highlighting the fact that the ‘service’ aspect is quite an important part of the equation.

“We work with many municipalities and companies around the globe, helping them rethink waste challenges, providing solutions that contribute to a regenerative, circular economy. What sets us apart from many other waste management companies is that we address the most pressing waste concerns impacting our society today – plastic pollution, marine littering, open burning of agricultural residue – finding innovative and scalable solutions which are the best fit.”

Planet solutions

Further reflecting on the issue of waste management, and specifically plastic waste that ends up in the oceans, a phenomenon that is becoming increasingly important outside Europe, Mr Pieters believes international efforts have to be intensified. To this end, Geocycle has established PlaNet, an initiative to help businesses achieve plastic neutrality by closing the loop of plastic waste through integrated, impactful solutions.

PlaNet offers solutions such as the Geocycle Bubble Barrier, a smart, non-invasive ‘bubble curtain’ technology to efficiently remove plastics from rivers before they reach the ocean. The bubbles basically ‘push’ plastics to the surface and channel them to the riverside from where they are collected to be processed. Most of the plastic waste gets washed into the ocean by rivers, and 90% of it comes from just ten of them. Thus, Geocycle has piloted its bubble barrier project in one of the countries where it is needed the most and so will have the highest impact.

“A key lever in the fight against plastic pollution is efficient collection and management of urban plastics,” says Mr Pieters. “We have developed a digital-based solution that offers end-to-end full value chain waste management services by bringing together waste generators, collectors and processors. The solution is based on reward-driven recycling, matching those who want to sponsor clean-ups with anyone willing to clean for a reward.”

Another solution in the PlaNet repertoire are the sorting stations. This solution ensures that post-consumer plastic waste is diverted from landfills to large scale sorting facilities established at landfill sites. These highly efficient and compliant sorting stations reduce the volume of waste going to landfills by redirecting plastic waste and sending it for recycling and recovery.

These initiatives have already been adopted by major companies. In Mexico, Nestlé, in partnership with Geocycle, will become the first company in the country to achieve 100% neutrality of the plastic they use. On the other side of the globe, the innovative ‘bubble curtain’ technology has been implemented for the first time in India to stop plastic waste from entering the Yamuna River.

“Waste management is not so much about the availability of technology, but often about finances. We strongly believe that extended producer responsibility should be applied. In my opinion, this is how we can solve the waste problem and this is what we are working on,” affirms Mr Pieters.

Speaking about the future, he reveals that the company has about 200 projects in the pipeline. Needless to say, building waste processing facilities is not cheap, and Geocycle benefits from group synergies as well as funding from its parent company. This also allows Geocycle to establish and operate in difficult locations, particularly in developing countries, where other companies cannot or will not. Geocycle’s innovative thinking drives it to explore solutions beyond its established core competencies, making its contribution to waste management on a global scale even more significant.

“The investments are considerable and will continue. We plan to more than double our capacity from 10 million tonnes of waste processed per annum to 25 million by 2030. Looking further ahead, we have the potential to quadruple the business by 2050,” concluded Mr Pieters.

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