Madalin Mihailovici, CEO of Veolia Romania, talks about the company’s care for resources and the way it combines its local business actions with social responsibility activities, building on current topics.
By Anda Sebesi
What are the solutions implemented by Veolia Group to ensure a more efficient use of resources?
The world must rethink its relationship with resources and come up with new social and economic growth models that are more efficient, better balanced and more sustainable.
With 160 years of experience in the field of water, energy and waste, Veolia employs its capacity to innovate worldwide, in order to pursue progress and human wellbeing and to improve the economic performance of the regions where it operates.
In order to make a transition from a resource-consumption rationale to a use-and-recover approach in today’s circular economy, Veolia designs and implements solutions meant to improve access to resources, while protecting and renewing the same resources.
Internationally, under the brand slogan “Resourcing the World”, Veolia Group focuses on raising people’s awareness and responsibility when it comes to natural resources that are becoming increasingly scarce, as well as on reducing the environmental impact.
Every year, the company collects and sorts 250,000 tons of plastic which are then recycled. This avoids 100,000 tons of CO2 emissions per year (equivalent to the emissions generated by 14,000 Europeans). All these efforts are aligned to the Veolia Group’s vision for the new plastic economy or circular economy, based on the latest technologies to turn plastic waste into reusable raw materials.
With these innovative technologies, Veolia has set out to recycle twice as much plastic by 2025, at international level, i.e. 500,000 tons vs. 250,000 tons now. Within this context, our local actions are meant to contribute to this form of circular economy.
What obstacles could stand in the way of this circular economy and integrated resource management?
The main obstacle is the human mindset and behaviour. At legislative level, we have the “European strategy for plastics in a circular economy” adopted on January 16th, 2018, proposing a change in the way plastic products are designed, manufactured, used and recycled in the EU.
Based on this strategy, there are several directives in place, standardized and harmonized between Member States, focusing on a more efficient use of resources.
Member States must transpose these directives into domestic laws. Romania is also bound to do the same and, as of January 1st, 2019, it must reduce its plastic consumption by banning the use of lightweight and very lightweight plastic bags, according to the EU legislation on waste (Directive (EU) 2015/720).
However, it takes time for the directives to be translated into practice. People first need information to understand why regulations such as that on bags provided in stores are necessary. And with this information, they must further adjust their consumption behaviour accordingly.
In terms of social responsibility, Veolia Romania also undertakes local measures to raise awareness among the wider public on the environmental impact of our daily actions.
How does Veolia Romania convey this care for resources internally?
We always act to make sure that our values are reflected in both theory and practice. We thus encourage the members of our team to develop an eco-friendly spirit. For example, this year, Veolia Romania implemented an internal campaign called “the bag drawer”. It was meant as a way to attract and engage our employees in reducing plastic consumption; this is how we arrived at the urban myth – “the bag drawer”, considering that Romanians collect all sorts of plastic bags to reuse them. Veolia employees were encouraged to donate some of the plastic bags for which they received a fabric bag and a plant. At the end of the first pilot phase of the campaign, over 70 kg of plastic bags were recycled.
What actions relating to efficient resource management are you developing externally?
We wanted to take “the bag drawer” to the next level and further enhance awareness on the negative effects of using plastic in excess. To this end, from November 16th – December 16th, the Grigore Antipa National Museum of Natural History is hostsing an interactive diorama developed by Veolia with the aim of explaining to the people, the wider public, in a playful way, how oceans would look if we continue at the current pace of irresponsible plastic consumption. The diorama looks like a water tank that showcases the footprint people leave on the environment.
Why do you think it is important to educate the public on their impact on resources?
Plastic consumption has increased alarmingly over the past several years, significantly affecting the aquatic ecosystems. To reduce the negative impact, each of us can make small changes in our daily habits. Let’s take plastic bags. Reusing the bags or opting for a bag made of fabric are options through which we can reduce the excess consumption of plastic.
Research shows that by 2050, the amount of waste in the oceans will exceed that of fish. Approximately 5,000 billion plastic residues float in the ocean while the livelihood of over 3 billion people depends on water resources.
We are placing more emphasis on this matter because it is important to understand that plastic, unlike other materials, goes through a lengthy degradation process that can take from tens to hundreds of years, which means that their polluting effect is long-lasting. I strongly believe in what A. S. Exupery used to say: “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children!” And I am striving to instill this mindset in the business activities I coordinate.
What other actions relating to the optimized management of resources are you considering for the future?
Water quality and a functional sewerage system are priority concerns for us. We aim to constantly improve the quality of tap water and the water that returns into the natural circuit, following the wastewater treatment process. In 2019, the Veolia Group is aiming to raise awareness of the disposal of banned waste in the sewerage system.
In addition to specific actions, we have a long-term commitment towards the environment. At group level, we are constantly investing in research and innovation programs for our recycling processes and we are actively involved in the work carried out by large organizations such as the World Economic Forum and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.