2C Conference: Recycle yes - but together!

Posted on 09 December 2019.

- "Recycling is only one of its components, but it is fundamental and involves all the actors in the chain: beginning with the manufacturer with eco-design and ending with the consumer who sorts.”
- "Recycling creates 10 times more jobs than landfill.”
- "A strong individual investment lies behind the societal challenge of recycling. It is a question of overcoming all the micro-disincentives that prevent sorting such as a lack of clear information.”

The cold and rain on November 26, 2019 did not stop the participants at the 18th 2C conference, organized by the Veolia Foundation at La Recyclerie. In this circular economy mecca in northern Paris, there were lively debates among the large numbers of experts, students and young working people who took part. The objective of the evening hosted by the CliMates network was to better understand the issues facing the circular economy and more particularly the challenges of recycling - for this fourth edition in 2019 on the theme of the 4Rs: Redesign, Reduce, Reuse and finally Recycle. 

The circular economy for better resource management

"By 2050, there will be 9 billion people on our Earth. We will therefore need even more resources, more energy, but with less space available due to growing urbanization," said Amélie Rouvin, Head of Circular Economy at Veolia, in her introduction.

So how can we better manage our planet’s resources? "The circular economy is a bit like traditional household management: we only consume what we have available and we optimize our resources," explains Emmanuelle Ledoux, Director of the Institut National de l'Économie Circulaire. Recycling takes place against this backdrop, one of the seven pillars of the circular economy but also vital in ensuring better use and recovery of our planet’s resources. 

Widespread awareness

Faced with these challenges, consciences are gradually awakening, as the experts present at the conference noted. "The issues related to recycling have changed a lot over the last five years. We are witnessing a real flood of initiatives, company projects, start-ups and associations that have come to drive these issues forward," says Séverine Lèbre Badré, Citeo's Director of Communication, which supports companies in their efforts to recover packaging waste. 

Investments are also commensurate with the ambitions since the “Alliance to End Plastic Waste” - bringing together more than 40 major global companies, including Veolia - is committed to spending $1.5 billion over the next five years to reduce the amount of waste ending up in the oceans. There is the same enthusiasm within Veolia, which is increasing the number of its strategic alliances in order to improve waste recovery – for example with Danone

Overcoming financial disincentives

However, despite the widespread awareness, there is still a long way to go. Although the planet produces more than 4 billion metric tons of waste a year, the recycling rate is still incidental. "Only 9% of the world's plastics are recycled!" Amélie Rouvin warns. Which is a real pity when you think about the opportunities this particular circular economy pillar offers. "Recycling creates 10 times more jobs than landfill.” 

So what’s holding us back? The cost. Recycling materials (with the jobs and developed technologies) is often more expensive than extracting virgin materials. 

But only at first sight. It is actually our very way of calculating the costs that many experts question. "Our business model is completely haywire. Product costs for example, don’t take into account all the negative externalities: pollution, environmental and climate consequences. When all these parameters are considered we clearly see that the circular economy will help us grow GDP less artificially and more fairly, since it then becomes possible create value from resources that are now wasted," says Amélie Rouvin.  

In addition to environmental accounting, regulations are also trying to overcome this financial disincentive, particularly in France through the anti-waste bill. The legislation, currently under discussion in Parliament, aims to put an end to certain tax anomalies and encourage responsible behavior. "The fact that as things stand it is sometimes more expensive to recycle than to throw something away is absurd!" says Emmanuelle Ledoux of the Institut National de l'Économie Circulaire, who is participating in the debates on the bill. The bill plans to toughen up the penalties for manufacturers who do not take eco-design and recyclability into account in the product development process.  

Everyone involved in recycling! 

But, since recycling involves the entire economic chain, the bill also aims to encourage the public to recycle more, in particular through new signage that clearly indicates the sorting rules on each product. An initiative that echoes the mobile application launched by Citeo: the Sorting Guide. With a simple click, people can find out what to do to recycle each product. "A strong individual investment lies behind the societal challenge of recycling. It is a question of overcoming all the micro-disincentives that prevent sorting such as a lack of clear information. We aim to create enthusiasm and even pride around recycling and not, as is sometimes the case today, to experience recycling as a constraint," explains Séverine Lèbre Badré of Citeo. 

The same is true at Paris City Hall: the capital was one of the first places in France to adopt a circular economy roadmap in 2017. "The recycling process must be as simple as possible. We therefore facilitated and extended our sorting instructions in 2019 to accept all plastics in the yellow bin. It has meant we collect more waste for recycling," says Anita Ravlic, head of the circular economy department at Paris City Hall. But the municipality doesn’t put all recycling issues on the shoulders of the public alone. For offices - which are not currently required to recycle their household waste – Paris has created a dedicated recycling channel, notably through partnerships with SNCF and La Poste. "Today, this new sector for offices has enabled us to recover more than 4.5 metric tons of waste," says Anita Ravlic. Because, if there is one conclusion that all the experts at the 2C conference agree on, it is that recycling can’t be done in isolation. Only partnerships, alliances and collaboration will make it possible to drive it forward over the next few years.