La REcyclerie conference: connections at the heart of the circular economy

Posted on 19 February 2018.

The circular economy creates a physical link between all local contributors aiming to optimize and share resources. The most recent "2C" conference held by Veolia therefore focused on "connections at the heart of the circular economy".

For the third consecutive year, the Veolia Foundation has organized "2C" conferences at La REcyclerie – in which it is the main partner. These conferences are intended for students and the general public, aiming to pass on the keys to deploying a circular economy, improving the protection of our planet's resources. 
Just like every year, conferences are led by speakers from partner bodies: Ecole des Ponts, Institut national de l’économie circulaire and the CliMates association.  A new feature was launched in 2018: the "2C" conferences are now sponsored by Dominique Bourg, philosopher and President of the Fondation pour la nature et pour l’homme
Tuesday 13 February, the first conference kicked off the program for 2018 focused on "connections at the heart of the circular economy". 

The starting point: a real priority for resource supplies

Let us start by reiterating a basic principle: why do we need a circular economy?  "If we consider the level of indium – the material used to manufacture the flat screens of our smartphones and televisions – the planet's resources will be completely used up in 16 years" explained Emeric Fortin, Ecole des Ponts lecturer. To continue to consume at current levels, we must face a real challenge in terms of resource supplies. Not forgetting that the human population will increase to 10 billion by 2050 and the growth of the middle classes worldwide will boost the need for consumer goods.
In this context of ever-scarcer global resources, we can select from three options: either find a replacement for materials which are about to run out, or cease producing the consumer goods we have come accustomed to, or start to obtain the materials from existing sources, i.e. our waste. This is the principle behind the circular economy.

The circular economy, a source of multiple connections

 According to Emmanuelle Moesch of Institut national de l’économie circulaire, the circular economy is a source of multiple connections between all stakeholders.
The main priority is to reconnect citizens with the economic sector, converting them into contributors. In fact, when a citizen decides to purchase a sustainable item, or to opt for the circular economy or a product-service system, when a citizen decides to recycle objects at end-of-life, they are changing their connection to the economic sector. Each act of sustainable consumption is equivalent to one vote for a more responsible economy. On this basis, these votes can influence companies, as well as public authorities, to change their approach. For example, by opting to use Autolib or Vélib rather than own a vehicle, citizens are encouraging their town to develop their mobility services.
The second connexion is between the economic players operating in the same area. The aim: share material and energy flows. Players must work together to identify to what extent the waste of some parties can be used as resources by others and how this can be achieved. For example, knowing that a plastic bottle can be transformed into filaments for 3D printing is one thing, but we also need to check that the bottle is recycled using a procedure which leads to the appropriate level of quality to create filaments. Without discussions between players, it is impossible to determine these factors and therefore transform waste into resources.
The third connection is the co-construction of a regulatory framework between the Government and the different stakeholders for the development of the circular economy. For example, the French government is currently working on the "Circular economy" roadmap. In this context, an on-line consultation platform has been opened, and all contributors are invited to provide feedback and indicate their requirements. Consultation workshops are also organized with the different economic players.

Connections at the heart of the public circular economy policy of the town of Paris

The town of Paris has deployed a public circular economy policy since 2014. Anita Ravlic, who is in charge of managing the circular economy for the town of Paris, explained how connections between players have proved critical at each stage of construction.
It all started in 2014 with the launch of a diagnosis to identify the flows of materials and energies entering and leaving the town. This diagnostic was accompanied by a call for projects, which led to the identification of private local players likely to provide solutions. The real gain came with promoting meetings, which led to the development of a biowaste treatment and collection solution for canteens to supply Paris breweries with distiller's grains.
In 2015, the town organized a large-scale meeting on the circular economy. Over 200 players (companies, associations, other authorities, etc.) attended workshops and other opportunities for meetings and discussions. This event created a formidable network of committed players which support the town on a daily basis to construct public policy. 65 concrete proposals were raised at this event, and recorded in a White paper. The Paris Local Authority then announced its circular economy plan in 2017.
This plan comprises a 15-action roadmap, 5 of which are dedicated to inter-player connections. We could particularly mention the "Les deux rives" project from the roadmap. "Les deux rives" is the name of the district located between the Lyon, Bercy and Austerlitz train stations, which is destined to become the first "Paris circular district". As the 4th business district of the French capital, the area is home to 5,000 companies and employs a total of over 100,000 individuals. The Paris Local Authority, in cooperation with RATP, brought all of the volunteer companies together to consider the sharing of equipment and services and the exchange of waste flow. "This approach is both unique and innovative, and I hope that it will bring results and generate new models! " explained Anita Ravlic with enthusiasm.

An example of a circular economy strategy as part of a public-private partnership

To conclude the conference, Amélie Rouvin – in charge of the "Circular economy" commitment at Veolia – presented the example of Durban, in South Africa. The town is home to 3.5 million individuals and is the second industrial unit in the country. Water supply priorities are therefore key for citizens, industry and agriculture, while Durban is located in an area with a water scarcity problem. i.e. water requirements significantly exceed available resources.

In 1999, at the request of the town, Veolia constructed a wastewater recycling station , which can be used to 98% of municipal wastewater. This is the equivalent of the contents of 13 Olympic swimming pools saved each day! The benefits are clear for the environment (protecting fresh water resources), but also for industry: thanks to recycled water, water bills are reduced by 60%, and companies are guaranteed that they will receive the water required for their process in terms of volume and quality. Local industries were previously supplied by the drinking water network, however, in the event of a drought or water shortage, inhabitants are priority beneficiaries for the water.

What are the particularities of this project? It is based on an innovative contractual model. As the local authorities could not launch this project alone, the factory was constructed as part of the first ever public-private partnership in South Africa. Veolia invested financially and constructed the site. The Group will obtain returns by selling the water to industrial operators, and provision a Fund to finance access to drinking water for vulnerable groups jointly with the municipality. This partnership therefore comprises a large-scale social component, which also provides for new jobs and skills transfers. This provides a splendid illustration of a circular economy strategy implemented by connecting a company (Veolia) and a local authority (Durban), while satisfying the requirements of local industry and inhabitants.
To conclude, let us not forget that the most important connection is the one between citizens. Every party has a role to play, at their level, to transform the economy into a more virtuous model. In the Paris region, you can also visit the sustainable Paris site to network with the different parties and determine solutions: shared gardens, secondhand shops, recycling and new types of consumption.
Come and check out the next "2C" conference at La REcyclerie on May 15th, 2018!


> When industry runs on wastewater 
La REcyclerie conference: the circular economy driving local economic development