What if the circular economy were the future of transport?

Posted on 09 February 2017.

The transport sector still has a good way to go to be in tune with circular economy and sustainable development principles. But solutions are emerging.

The transport sector tops the CO2 emissions ratings in France. By 2015, for the first time in more than 10 years, greenhouse gas emissions from transport increased by 0.9%... Transport is also one of the highest consumers of fossil fuels (produced from oil, coal or natural gas). To develop a greener approach to the environment and find better ways of getting around, four areas are now emerging and shaping the transport of the future.

Rethinking distances and introducing short circuits

Road freight transport is likely to continue to dominate the future and so logistics need rethinking from start to finish. The priorities are optimizing vehicle loading, avoiding empty return journeys and reducing the weight and volume of packaging.

La Poste took this approach through its RECY’GO service : when delivering the mail, mail workers also collect waste paper from small businesses.

Shorten distances and reduce the need for transport upstream – the answer lies in creating local networks by choosing local level resources, products and partnerships. This principle is employed by the AMAPs - associations working to maintain peasant agriculture. Their goal is to promote small scale, organic agriculture by creating direct links between producers and consumers. Consumers promise to buy produce at a fair price and pay upfront. The same principle applies in places like the REcyclerie, in the 18th arrondissement of Paris, with its "3R" rule - reduce, reuse, recycle. New mutual assistance and empowerment approaches mean that everyone, however resourceful or ecologically aware, can adopt new consumer behaviors such as Do It Yourself or Do It With Others.

Clean fuel and multimodal transport

Clean means of transport and multimodal routes need to be developed further.

There’s plenty of room for improvement: currently only 5% of goods transported in France go via rail and inland waterways, even though they emit much less CO2.

In 2012, Franprix (Casino Group), in collaboration with Ports de Paris, switched from road transport to river transport to supply some of its Paris stores. It saves 45,000 km and means 37% lower CO2 emissions.

Monoprix also chose multimodal transport to supply nearly 100 Parisian stores. The goods are first transported by rail. Since 2007 12,000 trucks have not entered Paris. Every evening, a rail shuttle transports goods stored in warehouses in Seine-et-Marne to Bercy. From there, the goods are unloaded, sorted and then reloaded on to vehicles running on natural gas that deliver to each Parisian store.

Pooling transport

France’s energy transition legislation provides for the implementation of a mobility plan for companies employing more than 100 people on the same site - and situated within the scope of an urban travel plan - by 1 January 2018 at the latest. However over the last few years a number of French companies have already set up travel plans for their employees. These company travel plans aim to limit the use of individual cars in favor of alternatives - carpooling, public transport with the company contributing to the cost of a season ticket, special transport, bicycles schemes, etc.

Some companies, like Nestlé in Noisiel (Seine-et-Marne), have concentrated their efforts on carpooling, whereas Microsoft in Issy-les-Moulineaux (Hauts-de-Seine) has a wide range of options that limit individual car travel, from concierge services to taxis and from a private electric shuttle to teleworking.

In particularly dense urban areas, the plan may be an inter-company travel plan. The one in Saint-Denis (Seine-Saint-Denis) concerns 11,000 employees and 7 companies, including SNCF and SFR.

But the biggest scheme in France is Orly-Rungis: 4,000 companies, 63,000 jobs, 500 hectares, including Orly airport, Rungis market, the Silic rental business park, the Sogaris logistics platform and the regional Belle Epine shopping center. Given its peculiarities (night work, lack of public transport), the priorities in the travel plan were adapting existing bus services, introducing complementary services and occasional or on-request transport services, optimizing parking and carpooling.

Recycling end-of-life means of transport

Dismantling end-of-life means of transport, re-using spare parts and recycling the materials used to make them are essential.

Through its specialized subsidiary, the Bartin Recycling Group, Veolia operates throughout the sector. Dismantling end-of-life vehicles means 1 million tonnes of metals are recovered every year.

The Michelin Group is working to optimize tire recycling - 17 million tonnes a year worldwide, including 350,000 in France. Through the TREC project it introduced in 2014, the company has developed new methods, including regenerating gum blends to manufacture new, more efficient tires.

Key figures

- The transport sector is responsible for the emission of 130.5 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year - 29.6% of all French greenhouse gas emissions.
- Transport-related greenhouse gas emissions increased by 0.9% in 2015 in France (after falling an average of 0.7% per year between 2004 and 2014).
- 94.7% of transport-related greenhouse gas emissions come from road transport.
- Road traffic in France increased by 2.2% in 2015.
- French domestic air transport accounts for just 1% of France's CO2 emissions.
- Road transport is the most energy-intensive (80.6%), far ahead of air (12.6%), maritime and river (5%) and rail transport (1.7%).

Sources : France’s Ministry of the Environment, Energy and the Sea; Office of the Sustainable Development Commission