With greater pressure on natural resources, the circular economy can turn our waste into a reserve of secondary raw materials.
Recycled raw materials represent only 4% of all the raw material used in industry in France!
In partnership with La REcyclerie, the Veolia Foundation organizes an annual cycle of circular economy themed conferences for young people. Experts from different backgrounds present their views on the major issues and the keys to a greener economy.
Organized during the European Week for Waste Reduction, the fifth and last conference in 2017 naturally focused on the theme of waste. Waste reuse and recovery are at the heart of the circular economy. Given the increasing global scarcity of natural resources, it is a question of transforming some people’s waste into others’ raw materials.
Raw materials in critical state
"Globally the issue of raw materials is both physically and geographically critical," began Emeric Fortin, a professor at the École Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées. It is even more critical than energy, which is more often top of the agenda.
For example, based on 2015 utilization rates, in only 16 years we will have fully depleted indium resources, the material used to make flat screens for our TVs, computers and smartphones.
In our linear system, if we don’t find an alternative, there will soon be things we can’t manufacture any more. The most logical solution is to recover the resources hidden in our waste. This principle underpins the circular economy.
Today, of the 4 billion tonnes of waste produced each year worldwide, only 25% is recovered. Far too little. In France, recycled material represents only 4% of the total material used in industry. These very low rates clearly show how far we still have to go.
For Emeric Fortin, the challenge is scaling up. "In the coming years, raw material from recycling must leap from 4% to 40% and then to 80%". This means investing heavily in R&D and successfully linking the actors who produce waste with those who could reuse it. "We have to reach the same level of industrialization in deconstruction as there is in construction. Recycling has to become a viable option.”
Here are some examples of how it is possible to transform waste - whatever it may be - into resources.
In the Netherlands, the Douwe Egberts Master Blenders coffee roasting plant wanted to not only increase its sales - and hence coffee production – but also reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. After three years spent in R&D, Veolia came up with a solution to recover the coffee grounds from its production process to make a biofuel that now replaces the natural gas that powered its boilers. A good example of a local circular economy loop – and it saves the plant 1 million euros on its annual energy bill too!
In France, estimates suggest that one third of all food produced is wasted. In partnership with Veolia, the start-up Eqosphère recovers food waste. It distributes unsold food to associations and also advises supermarkets on the volume and type of waste they are generating. This results in reducing waste upstream and directing the remaining waste into the right sorting channels downstream. In one year, in a hundred hypermarkets, the solution redistributed the equivalent of 14 million meals!
Finally, wastewater can also be recycled. Amélie Rouvin of Veolia says that globally only 2% is recovered although the heat released by the microorganisms present in greywater can be recovered. Using this technique, called Energido, Veolia now heats an entire aquatic center in Arras, in northern France.
Leveraging the legislative and regulatory framework
The regulatory framework is an effective lever for accelerating the transition to a circular economy. According to Hugo Maurer of France’s National Institute of the Circular Economy, "laws give concrete tools that help organize a structure".
For example, since 2012, in France, the law has made it mandatory for companies to keep a register listing all their outgoing waste. Every type of waste must be classified on the basis of a precise nomenclature laid down in the regulations. Keeping this register allows the company to identify the costs associated with removal, storage or recycling - valuable information that can help them make the right decisions and reduce their overall waste production.
In 2017, the European Commission adopted the "Circular Economy Package" setting its member states the target of recycling 70% of municipal waste by 2030. "There is a great deal of interest in waste recycling," says Maurer. “There are winners and losers. The guidelines allow you to decide and set a clear framework. The standards also have to be constantly reviewed to adapt them as circular economy thinking evolves."
To conclude, the transition to a circular economy means we have to completely rethink the way we are currently functioning. All stakeholders are involved: businesses, communities, associations, citizens. It is the job of the new generation to invent a model!
Check out the next circular conference at La REcyclerie on Tuesday, February 13, 2018 "The connection at the heart of the circular economy"
> Energido heats swimming pools with wastewater calories
> Conference at La REcyclerie: cities, a prime location for the circular economy
> In the Netherlands spent coffee grounds equal renewable energy