The huge mountain of plastic waste in our country keeps on growing. Fortunately, the start-up vanAfval from Leek, Groningen, knows what to do with it. The company is a subsidiary of Vita Plastics, an international specialist in plastic recycling, and it makes new products from low-grade waste that has been collected by the local municipality. “We make street furniture like benches, rubbish bins and flower pots, and who knows in the future, maybe even lampposts,” says Niek Jansema, Manager of Operations at the company.
What type of waste do you use for street furniture?
“These are mixed low-value plastics, such as potato chip bags. The materials in these products are laminated to each other, making it impossible to separate them. This means that the products usually end up being incinerated. This generates energy on a one-time basis, but is basically a waste of material. We make sure that the waste is reused in a new cycle, so we make street furniture for the likes of municipalities from waste that is also collected by those municipalities.”
Where might we find all your benches, rubbish bins and flower pots?
“Our benches can be found in Groningen at the Paddepoel shopping center, for one thing. All benches, rubbish bins and planters inside and outside the shopping center have been supplied and placed by us. We have an intensive collaboration with the Municipality of Groningen for this reason. We also work together with the Omrin waste disposal company to manage the waste stream properly. Our products are located throughout the Netherlands from Capelle to Leek, for instance, in schools and nature reserves.”
In other words, your products are sustainable. Do they have any other advantages compared to regular street furniture?
“If you look at the cost of our benches, you will notice that they are no more expensive than the regular hardwood varieties either. They last 40 years in any case, and no maintenance is needed in between. That obviously saves on maintenance costs.”
“What is also special about our company is that we have a partnership with Afeer. That is a social workplace where people who are at a disadvantage on the labor market have the opportunity to assemble our furniture. I think it’s very nice that we can make a meaningful impact in society this way.”
What happens to the benches and rubbish bins when they need to be replaced?”
“The products are designed with the idea that they can be recycled again later. ‘Designed to recycle‘ is my catchphrase. For example, a metal strip is often incorporated into regular benches and melted into the plank. This is not the case with our benches, so that the recycling process is much easier. Screws are mounted on the bottom of the benches, but they can be easily removed. The plastic is also 100 percent recyclable into new bins and benches.”
Are there any other products you would like to add in the future?
“It’s great that we can make furniture from plastic waste, but it’s only a drop in the ocean. However, if in the future we were to make even more products from plastic, as we are already sometimes doing with revetment walls in ditches and ports, then we really could process a huge amount of kilos of waste. Moreover, you would no longer need to use hardwood, which is now frequently taken from the forests of South America, for example. I would really like it if municipalities were first required to process a certain percentage of their own plastic waste in the municipality into street furniture and other products, before they consider alternatives.”
“And in addition to the benches and rubbish bins, it would be nice if in the future we could also make lampposts from local waste for municipalities. If we can then also fit them with a solar collector then we will have come up with a great, more sustainable alternative to the conventional lamppost.”