1000 km by bike and 40 circular economy solutions

Posted on 25 September 2018.

Stéphanie Talevis and Pierre Georgin, two young Parisians from the Circul'R start-up, have completed their journey around the Mediterranean - from Marseille to Athens - discovering circular economy solutions. Feedback.

« Il y a une prise de conscience de la nécessité de passer à une économie circulaire. »

Remember in July 2018, we met Stephanie Talevis and Pierre Georgin. These two Parisians were preparing to leave for a month-long bike ride around the Mediterranean in search of circular economy solutions. A personal adventure closely linked to their work at Circul’R - a start-up that brings together an international network of circular economy entrepreneurs. We met them on their return to Paris. They talked to us about their journey with all its meetings and learning opportunities.

In their 10th arrondissement office, they remind us about their trip’s initial goal: "The Mediterranean is one of the world’s most polluted seas. If you look at the numbers, you see that 80% of the waste comes from the land. So we’ve got to go back upstream to stop this waste being produced and ending up in the sea. We wanted to meet with business models and local initiatives that are doing just that – taking a circular economy approach."

In total, the two cyclists pedaled over 1,000 km from Marseille to Athens, via Corsica and Italy. They visited 40 initiatives led by associations, businesses and local authorities. Meetings that gave them a better understanding of the issues facing the circular economy in this part of the Mediterranean.


"It's urgent"

Their first observation is incontrovertible: it’s urgent. In the ocean observatory in Villefranche-sur-Mer, they met Maria-Luiza Pedrotti. This CNRS researcher - initially specializing in studying plankton - has been tracking plastic in the Mediterranean for several years now. And plastic is present in 100% of the Mediterranean. And more seriously, between Cap Corse and Elba the density of plastic is already greater than that of the plankton. "We often hear it said that by 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the sea - but it’s already the case in at least one corner of the Mediterranean," underlines Pierre.

Same thing in Marseille with Palana Environnement, an association that collects and recycles marine litter. "They told us that small-scale fishermen get up to 10 kg of plastic a day in their nets. And for the biggest trawlers, it is as much as 2 metric tons a day," explains Stéphanie.


"Striving for 80% sorted waste"

Nevertheless, the two cyclists are still optimistic. "We went to see a lot of initiatives managing waste at local level and realized that it really is possible to achieve 80% sorted waste. In Corsica, the village of Girolata and two municipalities in the Calvi urban area have done it. As has the city of Capannori in Italy."

From their visits to these initiatives Stéphanie and Pierre found there were three key success factors in achieving 80% sorting:

  • Door-to-door collection, which for the inhabitants means simply putting out the trash in front of their houses; this runs counter to the principle of voluntary collection points (traditionally used for glass).
  • The separation of bio-waste (of plant or animal origin) at source in the home.
  • Incentive pricing: indexing the waste tax to the weight of the bins is a great way of encouraging sorting. The less trash, the lower the tax.

In Capannori, Stéphanie and Pierre visited the Zero Waste Research Center. By analyzing the remaining 20% of garbage in the bins, those involved in this project realized it was mainly products with design errors. This makes them non-recoverable once they reach the waste stage: coffee capsules, diapers, razors, cigarette butts, etc. From there, there are two possibilities: ban them or design alternative products that can be recycled.

"The Center told us it had called manufacturers to inform them about the problem and look for solutions. That's why Lavazza, a big Italian coffee company, created biodegradable capsules!"


"Everyone has to do their share"

Stéphanie and Pierre have returned full of enthusiasm after their month on the road. "Maturity is not yet the same in all countries, but overall there is a real awareness of the need to move over to a circular economy. In France, the subject is on the political agenda and also more and more private companies are approaching us about the issue."

They temper their enthusiasm however by emphasizing that we have to act now. Everything needs to be reconsidered. We have to change our way of life and reconsider the ways we produce and consume. It may not be easy but the circular economy can really bring benefits for the environment, the economy and society. On this last point, Stephanie explains: "The principle of the circular economy is to operate in local short loops. Reusing, recovering, collecting waste - as we have seen - creates strong social bonds between people who connect, exchange and are proud to contribute to having a positive impact on the planet."

"The one message we have to get across," Pierre concludes, "is that everyone has to take responsibility - citizens who sort their waste, industry that designs recyclable products and public institutions that set up simple and efficient waste management systems."


Club Circul'R is back! A place for large companies and start-ups to exchange and share best circular economy practices. The October 11 event will be dedicated to plastic reduction strategies for industry. To register or for more information: [email protected] or [email protected]