In conversation with our partners

Fnac Vanden Borre

Fnac Vanden Borre has 86 retail outlets in Belgium that simultaneously act as collection points where you can bring your small, discarded household appliances and other electric and electronic devices.

Fnac Vanden Borre: Electro retailer opts for repairs

Fnac Vanden Borre has placed an emphasis on repairs ever since it was established. A repair subscription and a sustainability barometer aim to help counteract the consumption economy in the electrical appliance sector.

Recupel’s blue collection bins have been a trusted feature of the entrance to every Fnac or Vanden Borre store for many years now. “We work together closely with Recupel on the collection of discarded electrical and electronic equipment,” explains Stéphane Pauwels, COO of Fnac Vanden Borre. “Everyone can bring their small appliances and devices to us. When we deliver a new appliance or device to the customer, we offer to take the old one back with us. Even if it was not purchased in one of our shops.”

The shops gather all of the devices they collect in one place and then deliver these to Recupel. “But not before organisations like De Kringwinkel in Flanders and Petit Riens in Wallonia have had the chance to pick out the devices that still work or that can be reused after a minor repair. They then sell these at a reduced price. This partnership with the social economy has existed for a long time, and it is very important to us. By the way, we also help train technicians; sometimes they graduate and join our repair services.”

Exceptional year

For Fnac Vanden Borre, 2021 was an exceptional year when it came to the collection of electrical appliances. “A whopping 15% more televisions and small household appliances were dropped off,” Pauwels tells us. “The reason for this is obvious: Two years ago, our shops were largely closed due to the lockdowns. And since these bins are used for small appliances, people simply stored them at home until the shops opened up once again.”

Repairing instead of replacing

In recent years, Fnac Vanden Borre has also implemented updated initiatives to discourage consumers from simply replacing their defective electrical appliances with new ones. Pauwels: “In the first place, by offering a repair subscription for a monthly fee, we come and repair large electrical appliances and/or televisions, even if you did not purchase them from us. In addition, we also work on informing our customers about the proper use of their devices. Experience tells us that many ‘defective’ appliances actually still work perfectly; they are simply not being used correctly.”

“Another related initiative is our sustainability barometer. This is a type of ranking that we use to benchmark our suppliers. To do this, we collect statistics about the number of defects per brand, about how long a supplier offers spare parts for, and, soon, about the average prices of these parts. Through this, we challenge them to make products that are long-lasting and that can be easily and inexpensively repaired.”

The barometer has been in use for two years now, and it is already proving to be highly beneficial. “We have noticed that some suppliers have extended the availability of their spare parts by three extra years, meaning that spare parts are now available for 15 years. And that’s a good thing for the planet and our customers that want to increase the lifespan of their device.”

©ID/Photoagency Valentin Bianchi
Electro SOFIE

Electro SOFIE is a repair and collection point for electronic devices in Grâce-Hollogne, Liège. Each year, the company’s technicians repair no less than 3,500 large electrical appliances, including washing machines, tumble dryers, dishwashers, freezers, fridges and ovens.

Electro SOFIE: a new purpose for discarded electrical and electronic equipment

Collection point, repair service, social enterprise: Electro SOFIE is all of these. This Liège player gives household appliances a second life, and this allows it to employ dozens of people. Electro SOFIE has been a Recupel partner for 17 years to date.

Michel Simon, General Director of Electro SOFIE: “As a Recupel partner, we collect discarded electrical appliances. We do this both at recycling parks and at retailers in the province of Liège. We sort all the appliances we receive at our workshop. Cheap brands, rusty appliances, or excessively damaged appliances go to Recupel, which has them recycled by its partners. Newer quality brand appliances and devices that can be repaired or still contain good usable parts are handled by our technicians. We give these appliances a second life.”

High-quality secondary raw materials

Besides revalorising and repairing small and large electrical appliances, Electro SOFIE has developed another activity. As a subcontractor to Recydel from Wandre, it refurbishes small electrical appliances and dismantles fridges. Michel Simon: “On behalf of Recupel, Recydel recycles discarded electrical and electronic equipment into high-quality secondary raw materials. This is how we make our contribution to upgrading waste streams.”

“All electrical appliances that we repurpose provide direct employment for about fifty committed people.”

Michel Simon, General Director of Electro SOFIE

Three-fold sustainability

The collaboration with Recupel is indispensable for making Electro SOFIE’s social purpose possible. Simon: “SOFIE is a cooperative organisation that wants to create sustainable and quality work for people who are struggling in the labour market. All electrical appliances that we repurpose provide direct employment for about fifty committed people. So we’re a truly sustainable business, not just because we upgrade waste streams the best we can and create economic added value, but because we also serve a social purpose.”

©ID/Photoagency Mine Dalemans
De Kringwinkel Hageland

De Kringwinkel Hageland is the organisation behind four second-hand shops in Aarschot, Diest, Tienen, and Landen. It also manages an online shop and auction website. And it employs ‘energy savers’ and ‘BENOvation coaches’ (beter renoveren or renovate better) who help people improve their personal energy consumption and that of their homes. It also has its own collection channels and acts as a regional transfer station for the disposal of discarded appliances in large volumes. As a social enterprise company, it also offers work to disadvantaged groups.

“A major change in mindset is needed to make the circular economy a reality”

How long have you worked with Recupel?

Paul Stessens (De Kringwinkel Hageland director): “We were partners right from the get-go. In fact, we’ve been around since before the very beginning. We started in 1997 as the first appliance repair shop in Flanders. Back then, we were looking for a way to dispose of discarded devices efficiently, but no such thing existed at that time. The appliances were simply thrown away as scrap. Recupel made it possible, starting in 2002. Our collaboration has always worked well. It’s very professional, with clear agreements.”

How was the collaboration with Recupel in 2021?

Eric Boogerman (De Kringwinkel Hageland, team leader): “A major change for us was the switch to BD myShopi, the new logistics partner responsible for collecting electrical and electronic equipment from retailers. We did that kind of collection ourselves for a number of years. We can even identify devices that are still usable or repairable very early on in the process. This is important because the longer the devices are on the road, the more often they are loaded and unloaded, and the less likely it is that they remain in a condition where they can be reused. It also requires some specialisation and attention from the logistics partner. If you just stack white goods in three layers on top of one another in a lorry, there’s not much you will be able to repair.”

Stessens: “In the beginning, BD myShopi also had to adapt, and they adjusted accordingly. Now the collaboration is going very smoothly. For us, it’s a good thing that increased attention is now being paid to reuse. For example, we’re also doing a pilot project at the recycling park in Tienen where we select for reuse as early as possible. That would also be an appropriate activity at large appliance shops. Large white goods appliances often end up at these because the old appliances are collected from the customers’ premises when new ones are delivered.”

You also had a reuse project running in 2021 together with Recupel and KU Leuven.

Boogerman: “The Faculty of Engineering at KU Leuven developed an app that automatically recognises the exact model of a washing machine based on a photograph. To make this work, you had to train the software by having it evaluate a large number of photos and correct itself where necessary. That role fell to our repair shop, which receives a huge variety of models. Our repairers were also able to make notes on what kind of defect they found and how they repaired it. When the same model is brought in again, they can look in the app to see what the most common defects are and how to fix them. And if a device is no longer usable, the database shows which parts are useful for recovery as spare parts.”

Stessens: “That was a short-term project, but Recupel has already commissioned a follow-up. We’re really happy about this, because the software saves us a lot of time, especially since we keep a record of every appliance we repair. The software uses the photo to input the brand name, model, type of motor, and the most common defects. This saves an enormous amount of time. The main reason for many devices not being repaired at present is that it is too expensive and labour-intensive. So this kind of automation can absolutely play a vital role here. It’s part of the big change in mentality that is needed to make the circular economy a reality, because our current system is absolutely not geared toward repair and reuse. This is why we definitely want to continue our collaboration with Recupel. We’re not going to invent the future on our own or in a day. It will happen gradually and through collaboration with others. But the direction is as clear as day.”