Hera’s strategy in the plastic recycling is crystal clear: strengthen its leadership through the expansion in new market segments, with the aim to transform rigid plastics in addition to the flexible ones that Aliplast currently treats and, at the same time, approach new business niches, as in the case of carbon fibres.
Aliplast Group – with an EBITDA doubling in 2021 vs. 2020 and reaching 36.5 million euro – will be a key driver of the 122-million-euro growth at EBITDA level that the Group targets in the Waste area by 2025.
In a very favourable scenario from the perspective of both European policies and consumer preferences, with the aim to achieve such a stronger leadership in recycling, Hera is putting into play 92 million euro of investments, dedicated to projects that will expand its treatment capacity also on highly innovative fronts by 2025.
We explore this topic by asking a few questions to Mr. Carlo Andriolo, CEO of Aliplast, which is part of Hera Group since 2017.
In 2021, Aliplast’s EBITDA has doubled. How should we read this result?
The doubling of Aliplast’s EBITDA last year is the result of an undoubtedly favourable scenario, in which we fully benefitted from the well-targeted positioning of the plastics recycling business within our Group activities. When Hera acquired Aliplast in 2017 – with a clever intuition on the growing importance of the circular economy – the Company was already a leader in the recycling of certain plastic polymers for the industrial sector and had an EBITDA of around 17 million euro.
“In 2018, we saw a step change in the context when the European Commission launched the Plastic Strategy, setting two high-impact targets to be achieved by 2030”.
The first objective requires that 100% of the plastic used in packaging is recycled or reusable; the second, that more than half of the plastic waste generated in Europe is recycled. At the same time, in recent years consumer awareness of these issues has grown, thus companies – especially multinationals – have accelerated their practices to implement the EU policy. Demand has therefore developed in the direction that Hera expected. And this demand is likely to remain at significant levels in the future.
Maybe the EBITDA surge in 2021 compared to 2020 also reflects the exceptional circumstances due to COVID-19 in the previous year…
Certainly in 2020, during the first wave of the pandemic, Aliplast’s performance was affected by the plants shutdown in the weeks of severe lockdown, but the 2021 results fully prove the strength of this business, which posted 82% growth even compared to 2019, before the virus appeared. Continuous oil price increases since mid-April 2020 have made the recycled plastic more competitive vs. the virgin plastic, thus favouring the use of more sustainable forms of consumption.
“Therefore, in 2021 Aliplast was able to benefit from a number of very favourable factors, with the economic recovery that added up to a mega-trend, reflecting a new awareness in the use of recycled materials.”
Moreover, compared to 2020, we increased volumes by 16.5% and prices by roughly 30%. This mix of revenue expansion, with three simultaneous drivers represented by the price lever, the higher demand that we have met and the cost optimisation, allowed us to double EBITDA.
How were you able to meet higher demand in 2021?
We expanded our existing treatment capacity by adding washing and production lines. However, we realised that further investment was needed if we wanted to fully meet the growing flow of demand from the market, because in 2021, despite the added lines, we reached capacity saturation again.
Thus, 2021 performance convinced you to invest even more in this business in the coming years…
With demand booming, we found that Aliplast’s treatment capacity was a bottleneck.
“In the Business Plan presented at the end of January, we have therefore planned investments of 92 million euro to fuel organic growth – through an increase in the production capacity currently existing at the Treviso and Novara plants – and the construction of two new plants”.
The first plant, dedicated to rigid plastic recycling, will be built in Modena, in the heart of the “motor valley” where Lamborghini, Ferrari and Ducati are based, through a partnership with NextChem of the Maire Tecnimont Group, which will provide its process know-how. The second pioneering project – designed and built in partnership with the University of Bologna and Curti SpA respectively – focuses on the recycling of processing waste and end-of-life products in carbon fibre, a material widely used in the automotive sector as it combines characteristics of lightness and strength. The new plant in this case will be located in Imola, in a district that is home to several companies of excellence in mechanics.
With the new planned investments, what plastic recycling targets do you think you can achieve?
In the Business Plan presented at the end of January, we expressed our commitment to achieve a well-defined objective.
“Compared to the plastics recycled in 2017, we aim to reach a 150% increase by 2030. Given the results already achieved in 2021, we are definitely on the right track, having increased the visibility of future targets”.
The contribution that the plant will make to the treatment of rigid plastics will allow us to make a significant step up in size over the next few years.
What is Aliplast’s competitive advantage over other operators in the Italian market?
“Undoubtedly, the most important competitive advantage of Aliplast is to be part of the Hera Group.”
As part of a company with hands on waste, Aliplast enjoys a privileged position. Faced with times when it can be difficult to intercept material for recycling from direct customers, in a business that in any case is linked to the economic cycle, it is vital to be integrated in a Group operating in waste management. The other lever that Aliplast can use to its advantage is cross-selling, which it can put into play through HeraAmbiente. Therefore, Aliplast’s business is very promising on its own, but it can create even greater value in the broader portfolio of businesses in which our Group operates.