Miguel Ladrón de Guevara
Director General
View from the Top

Co-Processing as a Waste Management Alternative

Wed, 02/22/2017 - 16:12

Q: What advantages does co-processing have over other waste-management processes?

A: In recycling, just one type of residue can be used per process and it must be thoroughly cleaned in advance. When the separation of residues is extremely complicated or impossible to perform, co-processing stands out as a suitable alternative. For instance, in the case of an oily rag, the energy and effort needed to separate the oil from the fabric complicates the recycling process, making it economically unfeasible. By using co-processing, the waste would just need to be analyzed to ensure its suitability and made into fuel to fire the cement kiln. Co-processing decreases the industries’ environmental impact by avoiding the disposal of residue on sites where it can have negative effects, such as water bodies. Co-processing offers a solution for handling industrial waste, preserving scarce resources with a low environmental impact while reducing pollutant emissions and residue. It thus achieves a demonstrably superior environmental performance compared to landfilling or incineration. To conduct this process, we retain an exclusive partnership with the Lafarge Holcim Group.

Q: What barriers does co-processing face in Mexico to become a widespread industrial practice?

A: Mexico already has strong and thorough environmental laws. But it lacks stricter controls to ensure compliance of environmental regulations. For instance, several Mexican states have already enacted waste separation laws but few have control over the ways the residues are taken. Another important barrier is the low level of awareness that waste generators have at all levels. We are working to raise awareness about the inherent liabilities of inefficient waste management and its potential impact on future generations.

Q: To what extent are energy companies relevant to Geocycle's business?

A: All industrial processes generate residues and the energy sector is not an exception. We collaborate with energy companies in the same way we do with other industries, helping them to decrease their business’ environmental impact. The Energy Reform is expected to bring new and more players to the field, including international companies with good practices of waste management. In Mexico, there are processes that are still carried out manually and in an inefficient way, which generates more residues, and the arrival of companies with the right industrial practices could have a positive influence. Moreover, with the Reform we expect to see stricter environmental controls in the processes used in the oil and gas industry, which generates materials that cannot be easily recycled and can be better disposed of by using co-processing. For example, we can take care of the zeolites used in the exhaust gas cleaning systems that are generally installed in a refinery’s chimneys as well as handling drilling cuts.

Q: How do you expect the demand for co-processing services to increase in the future?

A: Globally, co-processing is an increasingly used method for handling waste, which enjoys great popularity in Europe. Currently Mexico has a 14 percent thermal substitution rate, meaning that only 14 percent of the total incinerated fuel corresponds to alternative materials. This amount is negligible if compared with Sweden, for example, which has an 80 percent substitution rate. For us, the ultimate goal would be to reach these numbers because that is a feasible scenario. On a daily basis, Mexico generates an incredible amount of residues, enough to fill the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City (87,000 seats) several times. The country needs to take waste management seriously or it will find itself facing serious space and health problems. So far, the industrial and commercial sectors have been improving their practices, partly due to pressure from their stakeholders, clients and the community. This trend highlights the relevance of enhancing environmental education. Mexican authorities need to evaluate and strengthen their current control systems, particularly those related to landfills, to ensure that environmental regulations are met. It is important for companies to include sustainability in their corporate visions.