By Geert De Clercq
PARIS (Reuters) - Veolia Environnement sees strong growth in toxic waste recycling and will keep investing in plants to treat industrial solvents and old batteries as it chases more sales from industrial clients.
The French water and waste group's toxic waste business includes recycling lithium from batteries, vanadium from industrial catalysts, and cutting oil or lubricant polluted by metal shavings.
Strong growth at the division should help Veolia meet its goal of increasing sales to industrial clients to 50 percent from 30 percent, with the rest made up of municipal authorities that buy water and waste services.
The toxic waste division has a turnover of about 800 million euros, and sales at the unit are expected to grow by 10 percent per year in the next four to five years.
Chief Executive Officer Antoine Frerot told reporters on Thursday that margins on toxic waste recycling were significantly higher than at its other businesses, without giving a precise figure, and he expected profit on this activity to grow by 15 percent per year in the next few years.
The firm has been investing up to 100 million euros per year in the toxic and specialty waste business, mostly in Europe, but last year invested about 20 million euros in China in its first plant in Tianjin.
Frerot said Veolia had won contracts to build toxic waste recycling plants in seven Chinese provinces, including the Tianjin plant.
Veolia also plans facilities in Le Havre and Marseille in France to recycle hydrocarbon dregs from refineries and ships and polluted water from parking lots.
Veolia already collects more than 100,000 tonnes per year of this kind of waste to be burned.
For the pharmaceutical industry, Veolia recycles iodine from the production of diagnostic tracing agents and from garages and car body work shops it recycles the solvents used to dilute car paint and clean out equipment.
Veolia also said there was a massive opportunity to clean up huge stocks of obsolete pesticides in several eastern European countries and central Asia.
The firm has already treated 20,000 tonnes of pesticides in Ukraine and has just signed a contract with NATO to treat 1500 tonnes from Moldova at Veolia's plant in Dabrowa, Poland.
Veolia said that stocks of pesticides produced during the Soviet era total between 256,000 and 263,000 tonnes.
The company forms partnerships with the chemical, pharmaceutical, automotive and other industries to collect and treat the waste and resell the recycled products as raw commodities or fuel.
"We aim to share the value with our clients. They give us their waste products and they buy the recycled product from us," Frerot said.
The company mostly gets the waste for free, but Frerot expects that industries will increasingly view their waste products as a commodity from which new products can be made.
Veolia estimates Europe produces some 35 million tonnes of toxic waste, including water used in industrial processes, water mixed with fuel, chemical or pharmaceutical industry effluents, solvents, pesticides, PCB and batteries.
Veolia, which had a group turnover of 24.9 billion euros last year, treats about 3 million tonnes of toxic waste per year, less than 10 percent of the market, in sites in France, Switzerland, the UK, Germany and eastern Europe.
Competition remains scarce, as most toxic waste is burned, buried or stored on industrial sites, but European rivals include Belgium's Indaver, France's Seche Environnment, Suez Environnment unit Sita, and Germany's Remondis.
(Reporting by Geert De Clercq; Editing by Helen Massy-Beresford)