2C Conference: REpairing to restore value to our consumption and nature

On September 10, 2019, the Veolia Foundation organized its third conference of the year and the 17th in the “2C” cycle at La REcyclerie — an experimental third space devoted to eco-responsibility. The aim of this annual cycle of four conferences is to raise students and young professionals’ awareness of the major issues at stake in the circular economy. Chaired by CliMates — the international network of young people committed to fighting climate change, the conferences include contributions from several experts. 
On the evening’s program: repairing to restore value to our consumption and nature. “By repairing, we obtain the same service with very little additional energy and material streams. However, the use value remains high,” Dominique Bourg – philosopher, Vice-President of the Nicolas Hulot Foundation for Nature and Mankind and sponsor of the 2C cycle – reminded us in an introductory video.
 

Repurposing what we think is “fit for the trash”

We are facing a huge challenge. In the light of the ever faster rate at which we are depleting natural resources, the Earth is not able to replenish them. Nowadays, we would need the equivalent of 1.7 planets to meet the needs of humanity. “Our influence is such that we have entered the geological era of Anthropocene, in which human activities affect the terrestrial ecosystem,” warned Amélie Rouvin, Circular Economy Commitment Manager at Veolia. 
To protect the planet, it is therefore essential to rethink our “linear” economic model, which consists in extracting, producing, consuming, and discarding. This is exactly what the circular economy suggests. One of its seven pillars looks to repair products that we too often see as “fit for the trash.” “Recycling is not enough and cannot compensate for the rise in the consumption of natural resources. Repairing becomes vital to learn how to better manage resources in the long term and ultimately reduce our consumption,” stated Amélie Rouvin. 
 

Providing places to repair and swap items 

To this end, it is essential to provide as many people as possible with places for collecting, swapping and repairing items, like the REné Workshop. Set up at La REcyclerie, it offers members the opportunity to come to repair their small household appliances — vacuum cleaners, hairdryers, blenders, toasters, etc. — there free of charge.
“Ethical consumers” can also hire tools. This represents a virtuous sharing economy when you bear in mind that a drill is used for an average of six minutes throughout its lifetime, according to Martin Liot, La REcyclerie’s Operations Manager.
For its part, Veolia has set up an urban waste drop-off center at the heart of Bordeaux, which does much more than waste management. Christened Recycl’Inn Shop, it also gives local residents the opportunity to swap their small household appliances and toys in good working condition. Repair workshops are also organized there on a regular basis to teach citizens how to go about it. 
However, the question of repair does not merely apply to materials. “Repairing is also about restoring our soils through composting activities,” stated Amélie Rouvin, mentioning the example of Paris City Hall. The French capital has recently begun handing out free individual compost bins to residents. 
 

Looking for wood in our cities rather than our forests 

What if we went beyond repair? This could involve, for instance, salvaging materials that are no longer needed and turning them into superior-quality products. This is the whole principle of upcycling. “A specific type of repair,” stated Julien Richardson, Head of the social firm Extramuros, which specializes in this new form of resource repurposing. 
The idea for Extramuros began to take shape in the heads of two artists from the Paris region and a social entrepreneur in 2007. Together, they had the idea of salvaging wood from urban areas rather than forests and giving it a new lease of life thanks to employees on a workforce reintegration program. Since then, the design studio has offered high-end furniture to companies keen to make responsible purchases, such as Veolia, the French Post Office and VINCI Construction. Incidentally, Extramuros’ teams are based in Veolia’s sorting center in Gennevilliers. This means that they only have to travel some fifty meters to stock up on raw materials. “We manufacture bespoke furniture to provide a solution tailored to companies’ needs in order to extend objects’ lifecycle,” remarked Julien Richardson. 
 

A bill to reinforce producer responsibility 

During the conference, Marline Weber, Legal and European Affairs Officer, National Institute for Circular Economy, spoke about the French bill concerning the fight against waste. This bill includes major points with regard to repair, including putting a reparability index in place. Following the same principle as the energy label, it will soon be visible on the product or its packaging. The consumer will be able to clearly see if it is easy to repair, difficult to repair, or unable to be repaired, and thus be able to make informed purchase choices. It remains to be defined, with the legislator, if the term “repairable” refers to an item that the consumer can fix themselves or if only the manufacturer can do so.
To encourage repairing, another measure is set to allow consumers to benefit from full and reliable information about the availability of spare parts when purchasing certain products, such as furniture, cell phones, computer equipment, small and large household appliances. “At present, the manufacturer is not obliged to state if there are no spare parts available. This can mislead the customer. What’s more, it sometimes costs more to repair a product than to buy a new one,” explained Marline Weber. For this reason, the repairer will also be required to offer the consumer second-hand spare parts.
Finally, the “polluter pays” principle is set to be reinforced via this same law: companies will not only be obliged to fund their products’ end-of-life management but will also be encouraged to manufacture more sustainable products. For a well-designed product is also a product that pollutes less when you are finished with it. 

Don’t hesitate to join the next “2C” conference on Tuesday, November 26 at La REcyclerie. It will be on the following theme: “REcycling and taking action together.” 

Main picture: © Veolia

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