The brainchild of three DIY enthusiasts and self-made entrepreneurs, Bel Albatros gives new life to plastic waste and unwanted machines.
Learning from scratch by following blueprints of recycling machines published by the open-source project “Precious Plastic”, Bel Albatros co-founder Guilain Sevriere managed to build his own machines and started recycling his own plastic waste. Quickly realising the business potential of his activities, Guilain, joined by his wife, Elisabeth Triviere and her cousin, Grégoire Hupin, decided to commercialize his production. In 2017, the trio created Bel Albatros, a small company that collects plastic waste in Brussels, and transforms it into large colourful panels.
Filling a recycling space
“There are two levels of plastic waste management”, explains Grégoire Hupin, an engineer by training. “On the one hand, there is waste generated at micro-level by private households; on the other, there is waste coming from big industries. Between these two levels, there is a gap populated by shops and small companies, which Bel Albatros is now filling. We collaborate directly with Bruxelles-Propreté and contribute to the local recycling system.”
Concretely, Bel Albatros collects plastic waste from shops and companies in Brussels. The plastic is then treated, ground, and sorted according to type and colour. Then the fun begins. Because Bel Albatros gives an ingenious second life to this raw material by transforming it into large, 100% compressed and recycled panels for the construction and design industry. The beauty of this brand-new and innovative material is that it can be worked like wood while at the same time being waterproof, thermoformable (easy to shape using heat and pressure), and colourful.
Bel Albatros also makes a habit of using cast-off machines, which they source at auctions for little money, then repair and remodel to meet their needs. “You’d be surprised how many machines are destroyed each year or left to decay in warehouses for decades.”
Demand is growing, even beyond Brussels
Bel Albatros transforms 20 tons of plastic each year. Grégoire handles the transformation process and production. Guillain focuses on the strategy, sales, and production, and Elisabeth on finance and marketing.
Their greatest achievement to date was creating panels made out of plastic bags that became the floor and stairs of a Brussels public library. Although the project was challenging – they had never solely used plastic bags before – it turned out to be a very flexible material to work with, and the project was a big success. And with each new success story, the word spreads: “It is incredible how high the demand is in Brussels alone, and it’s increasing day by day,” Grégoire remarks. “Our clients are typically architects and designers, who are environmentally conscious and picky about their sourcing materials. Surprisingly, they come from all around Europe, and not just Brussels.”
To meet this growing demand, Bel Albatros wants to invest in more machines and hire more workers. They also need help with their administration to stabilize business processes. Until now, their primary focus was on making the business work. With two new mechanics set to join them in the coming months, the Bel Albatros trio now have more time to start working on measuring their impact and looking for new partnerships. With these goals in mind, they decided to join the Impact Programme. “Our coaches really challenge us and help us to frame our business objectives into realisable steps. One of them is a banker, and he provides invaluable advice on how to approach banks and discuss financing. The second one has a business and management mind, and is currently showing us how to think about our business in systems. Knowledge spread in the team is the next challenge!” Grégoire adds.
The plastic waste recycling community is still young and very few initiatives similar to Bel Albatros exist in Belgium. However, it is an open and friendly community, as Grégoire explains: “We help each other out, share advice, exchange experiences and collaborate. We don’t really compete; there is so much plastic waste to handle that there is plenty for everyone. And ultimately, we are all working towards the same goal: reducing and valorising plastic waste.”
The potential for growth is certainly there. Grégoire hopes that in ten years’ time, plastic waste will be looked on as a precious resource that is no longer economically viable to burn or dump. And by then, his hope is that Bel Albatros will be present in many Belgian cities, collaborating with public authorities, and advising them on recycling, sorting and giving new life to their waste.
Find out more about Grégoire's and Guilan's work HERE