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Management of Environmental Issues in the Ceramics Sector in Wallonia (Belgium)

In recent years, environmental issues have been radically transformed in the Walloon area, following directions from Europe on the subject. Social, legal and financial pressures resulting from these directions affect the ceramics sector, which, although not usually recognised as a « very polluting » sector, has had to confront the issues.

Although a large number of companies are already ISO 9000 certified, certain others have completed the implementation of the environmental management system ISO 14001 (2 companies at the moment), which is very significant in a country where ISO 14001 certification is quite rare.

Another very significant aspect is industrial waste management, taking into account that the Walloon waste plan « HORIZON 2010 » will limit dramatically the list of waste that can be dumped in landfill sites. The Walloon ceramics sector has positioned itself along two main axes:

  • To avoid dumping waste in technical landfill sites, whilst seeking possible recycling of material.

    For example, pilot tests have been carried out to reuse waste ceramic dry powder as a filler in thermoplastics and thermo-hardening resins.

    Fired ceramic waste is also reincorporated in the manufacture of bottom of the range refractories.

    Most companies treat their liquid effluents (slip waste and glazes) and find themselves left with « filter-pressed » sludge. Recycling this sludge currently remains an unresolved problem and companies are actively searching for solutions.

  • To use waste coming from other industrial sectors as alternative raw materials, and to do this with a view of increasing profitability.

    It is mainly the brick and refractory sectors (concrete and bottom of the range products) that recycle significant quantities of waste such as fines from shale, from porphyry, from sawdust, from paper industry sludge, from sawmill sludge, and foundry sands.

    Research is in progress or at the planning stage to use dredging sludge, purification plant sludge and refractory waste, etc.

  • These initiatives are carried out company by company, without any consultation within the sector. The refractory materials sector, which is very strongly represented both as manufacturers and users in the Walloon Region, is trying to structure itself to be in a position to carry out concerted and coherent initiatives. A « refractory cluster » has been introduced, bringing together manufacturers covering the whole life cycle of the refractory product, i.e. producers, fitters, users, dismantlers and recyclers, in order to structure the actions.

    This initiative is structured through a number of initiatives:

  • the creation of an assistance and advisory committee for recycling refractory products.
  • the start of a research programme concerning recycling highly polluted refractory products.
  • a project to create a treatment centre for « difficult » waste.
  • a specific database for the sector.
  • Issues dealing with the air environment are also becoming increasingly important. In the last two or three years, operating licences have been granted to companies which provide systematically for measures dealing with atmospheric emissions.

    Ceramic businesses have obviously been affected by the problem, especially in the traditional sectors such as bricks, tiles and refractories. Raw materials consist mainly of natural clays and the emitted levels of HF, HCl and SOx (mainly) are often higher than present or future standards. Research (of a collective nature) is also being carried out in order to treat these gaseous effluents, in particular, the volatile organic compounds.

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