Credit : La REcyclerie

La REcyclerie conference: creating local circular economy loops

Posted on 22 July 2016.

In the third conference at La REcyclerie, Veolia addressed a key issue for the circular economy: connecting players within a territory to create local loops. And France is top of the class!

In March 2016, La REcyclerie launched “Europe of the possible", a series of conferences that highlight sustainable development initiatives in different European countries. In July France took center stage.

A core partner in both the program and in La REcyclerie, the Veolia Foundation set up a series of five conferences focusing on the circular economy. The third was held on Tuesday, July 12 and tackled a key issue: how to link players in order to create virtuous loops on a local scale. We take a look at the main topics covered during the conference.

Optimizing resources

In just a few decades the world population has exploded. At the moment there are 7 billion people on Earth and it is likely to reach 9 billion some time in the 21st century. Population increase equals more resources. And therein lies the problem: natural resources are not infinite. Some, such as rare earths and silver, are already nearly exhausted.

The good news is that although these resources are becoming scarcer in their natural state, they are still in all the objects we have already produced. In the classic linear economy approach these end up in landfills when they are worn or broken. So now we have to learn to see our waste as a tremendous source of raw materials. Similarly, we have to strive to recover inherent energy and recycle wastewater. This is the circular economy’s challenge – making one person’s waste someone else’s raw material. It’s the most effective way of optimizing resources and of taking as little as possible from the planet.

Getting players to talk to each other

Transforming waste into raw materials is not as simple as it sounds. Because waste recycling solutions are now well established the greatest challenge is not technical - the potential users of these secondary raw materials have to be identified.

The main challenge lies in forging links: identifying those that produce secondary raw materials from waste and those that could potentially use it, and in what form. There is only one solution: dialogue.

Usually it’s most meaningful at a local level. Firstly because geographical proximity is more favorable for meeting and exchanging. And secondly, because it is often more cost effective – both environmentally and economically. So if it is a question of transferring materials or energy, it makes no sense organizing transport over thousands of kilometers, which will eat up energy - and produce more CO2!

In northern France: a practical example of a local loop

In Arras, in northern France, Veolia helped create a virtuous local loop linking an aquatic center and the city’s wastewater treatment plant - separated by just 400 meters!

Wastewater has significant heating potential because the activity of the bacteria in it generates lots of energy. To realize this potential, Veolia developed Energido, an innovation that recovers energy from wastewater to heat buildings or facilities.

The solution was rolled out in Arras in 2012. It now covers 75% of the heating requirements of the city’s aquatic center and has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions and energy costs by 60%.

Energido has since been deployed in other cities in France - in an industrial building and for the pool at the Cercle des Nageurs de Marseille.

The impetus for regulation

Dialogue is fundamental to developing profitable and efficient local loops. Which is why regulatory standards have been introduced over the last few years at European Union, G7, and national levels. They help to set goals and create a positive impetus.

France, in particular, is well ahead thanks to the work of its circular economy institute. In January 2016 it launched a national inter-business synergies program. Tested in 4 regions over a period of two years, it consists of organizing workshops with around forty companies in each region. The goal is to gather useful information from the various local players in order to promote synergies. It may be exchanging flows (energy, waste, raw materials) or sharing tangible (logistics, co-products) and intangible (expertise, services) resources. The results are very encouraging and the program should spread massively throughout France over the next few years.

In conclusion

Dialogue is indispensable to creating local virtuous circular economy loops. In France, the fundamentals are in now place and initial results are encouraging - but the biggest challenge now is moving it onto a large scale. And it’s a challenge that requires everyone’s commitment - business, the public sector and citizens.