Replace: Complex plastics put back at the heart of the circular economy

Created at the end of 2019, the industrial startup Replace has developed a recycling process to recover complex plastic materials, until then almost exclusively buried or incinerated. After opening a first industrial line last year at a location based on the Marne, Replace has just launched a second one at the same location and plans to multiply locations in the coming months and years. Enough to develop its virtuous model of large-scale local recycling cycles.

Laurent Villemin, co-founder and president of Replace. © REPLACE

There is no lack of initiatives around the recycling of plastics. Despite its boom, the sector still leaves a series of “forgotten”, as described by Laurent Villemin. After having worked for nearly thirty years in the plastics and rubber processing industry, man has thus set himself the challenge of managing to recover these materials excluded from conventional recycling processes: post-industrial or post-consumer multi-component plastics and other aluminized packaging. previously incinerated or buried.

Alongside Christian Horn, creator of the first recycled plastic pallets on the market in 1995, Laurent Villemin founded Replace in November 2019. “We sought to invent a concept that would allow us to process these “forgotten” flows; and that not by removing them, but, on the contrary, by mixing them together.”says Laurent Villemin, now president of Replace. “The idea was to take advantage of the additives already present in the various plastics, so as not to have to add any, and still have an efficient process”adds the co-founder of the Moselle-based company in the Grand Est region.

The two specialists thus developed a unique – and patented – process that allows the direct transformation of mixed plastics into a finished product, itself recyclable. All in one step. “Technically it is a form of injection, with several modifications that allow for greater performance”, describes Laurent Villemin. From this patented process was born a true industrial solution designed in partnership with AISA, world leader in machines for the production of plastic and laminated tubes.

A first line commissioned in 2021

Benefiting in particular from an incubation system implemented by the Grande Est Region and the support of ADEME, the industrial start-up was thus able to launch its first production line last year. “The project was completed in an extremely short time. We were carried away by our impulse! 🇧🇷, enthuses Laurent Villemin. Since January 2, the industrial plant based in Marne has been operating in “3×8”. A factory that Replace wanted to install as close as possible to the deposit of waste to be recovered. “This demonstrator captures waste produced within a radius of less than one hundred kilometers”, emphasizes Laurent Villemin. Deposit consisting mainly of champagne capsules which, after transformation using the Replace process, give rise to cuttings used in the region’s vineyards. “It is really this local logic that motivates us. We conceptualize this with what we call “Local³” [local au cube, n.d.r.] 🇧🇷, reveals the president of Replace. A concept labeled since April 2021 by the Solar Impulse Foundation and based on the triptych “produced locally, transformed locally, used locally[1] 🇧🇷

In addition to these tutors called Tutofi, who have already sold more than a million units in partnership with the company KeepFil and made with more than 500 tons of plastic waste, Replace is also eyeing the production of pallets, or even fitting solutions for stores . “The objective is to show that the products we can produce are of sufficient quality to meet demanding markets, for premium uses”justifies Laurent Villemin, before specifying that the process developed by Replace is mainly intended for long and thick products. “We are not going to compete with injections in items such as cell phone cases or caps, each with its function”the president of Replace slips, thus defending the complementarity of recycling solutions, instead of head-on competition. “It takes an arsenal of solutions to open up the field of possibilities”considers Laurent Villemin.

On the carbon footprint side, the life cycle analysis carried out by Replace shows a clear advantage of the recycled plastic stakes produced by the company in relation to their equivalents in virgin plastic, and even wood. “Producing them locally allows you to drastically limit transportation”emphasizes Laurent Villemin.

 Replace, industrial site
Commissioned in 2021, the Replace industrial site in Marne has been operating since last January at 3×8. © REPLACE

Towards a full-scale deployment

After having demonstrated the effectiveness of its process in its demonstrator in Marne, Replace recently launched a second production line in this same factory, with the aim of increasing its capacities, but also expanding the range of products made from waste from plastic that was previously impossible to recycle. “This is a second generation line, which benefits from the hundreds of improvement points identified in our first line”specifies the president of Replace.

And for 2023, it is still a second site quite different from the Marne factory that the start-up intends to build. The start of a large-scale implementation was made possible in particular through fundraising in the amount of 4 million euros, announced last September. The company, which currently has about ten full-time equivalent positions, also expects to reach about fifteen employees by the end of the year. “We are in a logic of gradual increase in power, of crescendo”notes Laurent Villemin. “Our objective is to truly engage the territory with sites of a maximum of two to six lines”, completes the leader. Lines that can, incidentally, be managed by employees with no previous experience in the plastics industry. “With Christian Horn, we wanted to move towards a win-win logic for all, with a particular emphasis on employment. We wanted to develop a line model that could be operated by employees of, for example, adapted companies, as was the case when we started. We prove it works”concludes Laurent Villemin, who sees Replace as a kind of “plastic still”: a solution that makes it possible to make the most of the fruits of local production.

[1] Produced locally, processed locally, used locally.

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