For Niko, sustainability is more than just a buzzword. We have been committed to VOKA's environmental charter since 2001: we set ourselves ambitious targets for more environmentally friendly manufacturing and an external audit checks whether we are achieving these. We are now 18 environmental charters further, and we have covered a great distance.
Sustainability is in our DNA
Dirk D’haese is Niko's environmental co-ordinator and is closely involved in the whole process right from the start. Dirk: ‘Our concern for the environment can largely be put down to Jo De Backer, the grandson of one of the founders and an executive director at Niko. Thanks to his commitment, Niko has always been a front-runner in terms of ecology and we do far more as a company than the legal minimum. Even though that comes with a price tag.’
Niko is 100% Belgian company. Not only the management, but the manufacturing takes place on the site in Sint-Niklaas too. ‘The major advantage is that we keep our hands on the tiller, continually adjusting and optimising,’ says Dirk. ‘We work with plastics and chemical processes that, by definition, are taxing on the environment. Nonetheless, we've found ways over the years to make the impact of this as small as possible.’
‘For some years now, we've been working with the firm Eco-Point to find alternatives for harmful chemical substances,’ explains Dirk. ‘For example, we're now using a biological agent based on rapeseed and maize to remove adhesive residue instead of a chemical solvent. We've been able to replace more than half of the classical sprayers with ecological alternatives too. That might demand a small adjustment to our working method at times, but it doesn't have an impact on productivity or the quality of our products.’
Waste does not exist
Lansink's Ladder is an important yardstick for industrial waste processing. At the top of the ladder is the most desirable scenario (prevention), with the least desirable one at the bottom (dumping). ‘Dumping hasn't been an issue in our production process for more than 15 years now,’ says Dirk. ‘We're completely focused on prevention, re-use and recycling.’
A nice example is the ‘sprue’ that remains when moulding the flush surround plates. The high-quality polycarbonate is ground up and melted down again, making up 10% of the raw material for new flush surround plates. Since then, we've also started using moulds that shape those plates without a sprue. So, in the long term, we'll be going from recycling to full prevention. Naturally, there's also some waste that we can't re-purpose ourselves. That's why we call upon Indaver, which specialises in ecological waste processing and recycling.’
Dirk is optimistic about the future: ‘Over the past 18 years, we've kept raising the bar for ourselves, and we always will. New opportunities continually present themselves through new insights and technological progress. We're now involved in an interesting pilot project from the KU Leuven: Next Level Plastic Recycling. They're bringing different companies together and investigating what waste products from one company could be useful for another. If we don't consume as many raw materials collectively that way, then this is a win-win for all parties. The initial results are already looking promising!’
Did you know...
- the inscriptions on Niko's cardboard boxes are printed using water-based ink?
- the solar panels on the roof of the production hall provide 1/7 of the annual energy requirement?
- Niko's staff will shortly be able to lease a bike or an e-bike?
- the toilets on Niko's site are flushed with rainwater?
- Niko’s Bakelite waste is processed into super-sturdy parking posts and manhole covers?
- a tree bark filter with bacteria breaks down the solvents from the enamelling line's air?