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A shift in mindset: creative solutions for industrial waste

This is Emilia Buffa, the Manufacturing Excellence Manager at our Specialty Polymers’ facility in Spinetta, Italy. She has been involved in our Group’s Solvay One Planet sustainability program since 2019, applying the expertise she acquired over six years at Solvay sites in Italy and at Group headquarters in Brussels to help increase sustainability in our industrial processes.

To her, waste management – a particularly hot topic across the industrial world right now – is about more than finding ways to generate less of it or coming up with solutions to dispose of it responsibly. She and her colleagues are convinced that another promising path for the indispensable shift towards sustainable business lies in generating actual value from industrial waste. 

How is this possible? 

Thanks to the magic of chemistry, of course!

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Data meets waste reduction

Solvay’s Spinetta site has an ambitious objective: reducing its non-sustainable industrial waste to zero (i.e. waste that cannot be reused in any way), starting with an 80% reduction by 2024. Reaching such goals requires cooperation across the value chain to find innovative solutions fast, independently from the traditional waste management business.

Emilia Buffa

Standing at the crossroads of industrial know-how and digitization, Emilia does this with a team of data scientists and engineers who apply the principles of lean manufacturing and use the data generated by industrial processes to increase capacity, quality and sustainability. “Data has become a new raw material that helps us improve our efficiency, which in turn reduces waste.”

But generating drastically less industrial waste also implies a change in mentality, as Emilia points out: “We need to understand that, in fact, waste is a new resource!” 

She explains that there is residual value to be found in each waste stream, whether it’s energy that can be generated or compounds that might be recovered. “Our mission today, at Spinetta and across Solvay, is to transform our waste into value creation by leveraging the innovation we are capable of.”

We need to understand that waste is a new resource and replace the question, ‘what should I do with this waste?’ with ‘how can I create value from it?’

Emilia Buffa, Manufacturing Excellence Manager, Specialty Chemicals, Solvay

One step ahead of the industry

As a chemical company whose entire activity revolves around transforming materials and which has always placed innovation front and center, Solvay is better equipped than most to pioneer such transformations. Several concrete applications have been implemented at Spinetta, for example the recovery of fluoridric acid from process off-gases, a key raw material for the plant, and the transformation of an inorganic sludge into valuable material that can be sold to the cement industry.

“I think Solvay is one step ahead of the rest of the industry,” says Emilia, aware of the fact that there is a trail being blazed here. “And as one of the largest sites in our Specialty Polymers business unit, what we do at Spinetta will have a huge impact. That's what makes me proud of having the lead on this project and of being a part of a company that cares about pioneering to change our perspective on waste thanks to chemistry. We are truly embodying our Purpose of bonding people, ideas and elements to reinvent progress.”