A worker at the Valtalia plastics recycling plant in O Carballiño (Ourense) .OSCAR CORRAL
Garbage as a sustainable source, as a relief from environmental pressure.
This is the focus of the business of the Valtalia group from Ourense, one of the largest circular economy companies in Spain, with entirely Galician capital, which transforms waste into multiple assets.
From the anonymity (he resists being photographed) that allows him to walk around Ourense without being identified, its founder, César Pereira, a 46-year-old industrial engineer, presides over the company that employs 900 people and has a turnover of 150 million euros.
A diversified group based on Pereira's efforts to find answers to the problem of waste.
Avoiding going to third parties, it has ended up deploying its activity in four large areas - water treatment, urban solid waste treatment, plastic recycling and packaging - to become an important comprehensive environmental manager with an international presence: it treats 1.4 million tons of urban waste, recovers 600,000 tons of materials, converts them into energy and recycles them in the plants that the same company designs, closing the cycle.
"I always liked creating things and I always liked the business world," says Pereira.
For this reason, when he finished his degree, after training in a plastics factory run by businessman Fernando Fernández Tapias, he set out to create his own flexible packaging business: “Not that he dreamed of plastics;
what I liked were industrial transformations, management, but that's what I knew, "he explains.
In 2003 he launched the project and two years later it went into production.
Thus was born Sogapol, his first company.
The origin of everything.
"It was complicated: we made bags for large stores and supermarkets and people were already beginning to talk about the prohibition or imposition of a tax on single-use plastic," he recalls.
The 2008 crisis ended up postponing that moment.
However, it was clear to him then that he could give another approach to the business by making plastics more sustainable.
In 2007 the company began to collect waste from different sources (post-industrial, post-commercial, agricultural and low-density from urban waste) and use it for the manufacture of plastics.
Pereira assures that he started using recycled products convinced that he should produce in a more sustainable way when the consumption of products made with recycled materials was frowned upon.
"If in 2005 and 2006 a customer knew that we were using recycled plastic resins, they no longer wanted the product."
15% of the market
Currently, it has around 15% of the Spanish market for recycling polyethylene plastics, the most common.
"We produce about 65,000 tons a year," he says.
In plastics, Valtalia has invested heavily in process development.
“We have made the design and facilities necessary to recycle it here, we have built our own plants, we have done the engineering of those plants that we then operate and maintain and later commercialize.
We do the entire value chain ”, he says.
And he adds: "Now, large companies related to the public Administration or the University announce projects that we have naturalized since the years of the crisis because we always believed that the limitation would be in the raw material and in its management."
The Galician group continues to promote the plastics business, but above all, based on it, developing engineering processes in different countries.
“We do not present R&D projects anywhere, we do it internally, with our own funds;
We always have a pilot plant in a facility ”, he says.
The group has about 50 engineers on staff.
“From the beginning we set up an engineering department that was developing the plastic treatment processes.
When looking for different waste, we began to see with great interest the urban waste treatment process, in which we had already been working on engineering processes since 2007 ”.
From there the second business line of the group was born, dedicated to waste.
"We are in the processes of recovery of materials, final disposal, energy recovery and recycling of the factions that can be recovered," Pereira lists the process.
In the last four years, the company has built, designed and engineered the new materials recovery plant for Sogama, the public company of the Xunta de Galicia that now operates and maintains, and is building the materials recovery plant of Asturias.
Awards that it has obtained in Administrations of different sign and in competition with large multinationals.
Both the one in Galicia, with a capacity for one million tons, and the Asturian one, for 415,000, are the two large plants for recycling material from urban waste that have been made in Spain in recent years with new automated technologies.
A path that Valtalia has already started in Latin America and is exploring in Central Europe.
Along with this, without abandoning plastic packaging, it has launched into paper with a bag manufacturing plant from sustainable farms.
In his management he has run into a new problem: "The solid contains liquids and in the treatment we incorporate water that is also contaminated, so we generate dirty water, leachate that has to be treated".
To solve it, Pereira ended up embarking on a new business: that of water.
Again, nothing from third parties.
"First we design a plant for our factories and, later, engineering projects for the treatment of drinking or wastewater and industrial both in Spain and abroad."
It now carries out water treatment projects in Panama and Brazil and in 2019 it gave the group a final boost with the acquisition of the hydraulic business of the Galician company Espina.
It generates an electrical production of 500,000 MWh per year by incineration or cogeneration.
His challenge now is to reduce impacts, make recycling processes sustainable.
And he believes that there are only two ways: "Reduce consumption, which would cause a brutal economic crisis, or change the production system while maintaining the level of performance and consumption, without a crisis of unemployment and employment."
That is, a commitment to sustainability, for the use of alternative energy.
"The path that Europe has chosen," he says.
Its specialization is precisely to take the least amount of waste generated by recycling materials to the landfill.
"It is necessary to avoid that the recycling processes consume energy that is not clean and that generate significant rejections because there is a great risk that you will end up moving the garbage from the site", explains Pereira, convinced that it is necessary to look for zero waste.
Meanwhile, he is considering how to solve the problem of plastic spillage into the sea, which, he points out, is not generated so much by bottles or bags as "the microplastics that clothes shed in the spinning of washing machines."