Strategic investments

Veolia breathes new life into former Upm Chapelle Darblay paper mill


On May 10, the former Upm Chapelle Darblay site near Rouen in France, which has been closed since mid-2020, was taken over by the Rouen Metropolitan Council  which immediately transferred ownership to Veolia, a French multinational active in water, waste and energy services management.

Nicolas Mayer-Rossignol, mayor of Rouen and president of the Rouen Normandy Metropolis, handed over the keys to the plant to Jean-François Nogrette, managing director of Veolia France and Special Waste Europe, which took over the industrial site along with Fiber Excellence, a market pasta producer with two plants in France-Tarascon and Saint-Gaudens.

The sale includes the site’s land, buildings and equipment. With a total value of EUR 9.6 million, the acquisition represents a good deal for the city, procedural costs aside.

Prior to its closure in June 2020, Chapelle Darblay, located northwest of Paris, was the only French mill capable of producing 100 percent recycled paper with fiber derived entirely from recovery and recycling and had a capacity of 480 thousand tons per year.

Chaired by Nicolas Mayer-Rossignol, the Métropole fought for months to preserve this true industrial jewel located in Grand-Couronne, and for which a large coalition of 80 mayors-including Paris and Le Havre-and parliamentarians from all political stripes had mobilized in March 2021 with the President of the Republic for the state to act in favor of maintaining the site and its activities. Chapelle Darblay is indeed an important player in the ecological transition and circular economy in France. Decommissioning this strategic site would have led many communities to bury or burn their waste paper instead of recycling it or, even, sending it to Belgium and Germany. An ecological and industrial nonsense that was avoided. «This is a historic decision for ecology, circular economy and reindustrialization in France» says Mayer-Rossignol. «And this is happening in the Rouen conurbation! In October 2021, the owner of Chapelle Darblay, Upm, intended to sell the plant to a buyer whose project would lead to the elimination of the on-site recycling and treatment of paper and cardboard. We therefore activated our pre-emption right, as allowed by French law, with a view to selling the site to a buyer capable of preserving and developing know-how in the field of the circular economy. With the signing to transfer the ownership and assets of the Chapelle Darblay plant to Veolia, this is the first time a community has pre-empted a site of this size with its production assets. Throughout this affair we have joined with the union representatives, whose struggle has been exemplary and without whom nothing would have been possible. We have fought for social and climate justice, for employment».

Under the new ownership the plant is expected to produce 400,000 tpa of packaging cardboard made from recycled paper and cardboard collected in France.

The energy needed to run the facility will come from a biomass cogeneration boiler fuelled by organic waste from Normandy, Brittany and northern France.

Modernising the production facilities and the biomass boiler involves an investment of some EUR 120 million (£ 103 million), and is expected to create 250 skilled jobs – with priority given to local workers who previously worked at the mill.

Antoine Frérot, president and CEO of Veolia, said the plans would transform the factory, «while preserving La Chapelle Darblay’s legacy and competencies, and ushers it into a dynamic growth segment of the future».