For some time now, making sure our food waste gets a second lease of life by turning it into marketable compost has been the goal of a social enterprise that successfully couples circularity and proximity.
Les Alchimistes are working to revive a natural solution that drastically reduces the amount of waste in our garbage cans.
More often than not, food waste is incinerated or sent to landfill. But there's another solution: composting. In other words, living organisms (bacteria, worms, insects, fungi, etc.) help break down and decompose organic matter. The result is organic matter - otherwise known as compost and used to fertilize the soil. A natural circular economy process!
Composting is now the business of Les Alchimistes, a social enterprise created in 2016, whose business it is to collect and compost urban food waste – all in short circuits - and reestablish soil fertility locally. Based in the Paris region, these urban compost pioneers were set up with the aim of demonstrating the viability of a short-circuit bio-waste collection and recovery system based on a micro-industrial process.
Composting at scale
Since February 2020, composting has been enshrined in the circular economy anti-waste law, which aims to make source separation of bio-waste obligatory for private individuals and businesses alike by 2023. And Les Alchimistes have gone from experimentation to scaled up development. Present in several French cities and territories, they now offer short circuit services ranging from waste collection to the sale of compost.
Most waste is collected by bicycle within a 15 km radius of the composting site. It is collected from business customers (restaurants, supermarkets, schools, hospitals, etc.), and more recently from private individuals through a system of collection points. And if you don't have a collection point near you that will take your food waste, nothing could be simpler – talk to your neighbors because as soon as twenty-five requests have been received in your neighborhood, a collection unit will be installed.
After collection, the waste is shredded and stored in electromechanical tanks. The waste decomposes more quickly thanks to this micro-industrialized system. The process makes it possible to produce compost in eight weeks instead of nine. A time saving that means faster waste rotation, and consequently larger quantities of compost, than with a natural process.
And at the end, to loop the loop, the compost is sold through local outlets.
Next step, diapers
In the space of just a few years, Les Alchimistes have become bio-waste recovery experts and are now tackling a new type of non-recovered waste found in our garbage cans that’s composed of 75% organic matter: disposable diapers. The experimental project, called "fertile diapers", aims to make compost - and study its characteristics - with used diapers collected from a dozen or so nurseries in Paris.
CREDIT: Main picture © Les Alchimistes