The environmental and economic strengths of the circular economy have been proven. But many brakes still oppose its growth, that various startups and initiatives want to lift.
As a means of reconciling environmental protection and growth, the circular economy – based on reducing consumption, re-using products and, ultimately, recycling – is becoming increasingly important in the public debate. Since October, the government has been devoting a reflection that should culminate in the coming days in the publication of a first «road map», to remove the various obstacles to its growth. The private sector and the territories, which have also understood its potential, are moving in the same direction.
Technological lever: the example of plastic
Recycling is first and foremost a technical challenge, especially in the plastics field. Not only are there dozens of different polymers that the marketers choose for the packaging of their products according to their various characteristics (hard or soft, transparent or opaque, adapted or not in contact with food …) but who each ask for a specific treatment. Especially, these types of plastics are rarely used in a «pure» way: very often, they are colored, mixed together or with other materials, which makes it more difficult to obtain a recycled raw material of a quality and quality. performance comparable to the virgin raw material.
Not to mention that the constant innovation in the field of packaging requires recyclers a flexibility sometimes incompatible with the weight of the investments required in this industry … The alternatives to the technique of traditional recycling of the plastic therefore seem unavoidable in order to reduce purely energy recovery. Canada’s Enerkem, which produces methanol, ethanol and other chemicals from non-recyclable, non-compostable urban waste, is one of the industry’s promises. In February, she completed a fundraising event that raised C $ 280 million in new capital. Other manufacturers are moving in even more innovative ways: this is the case of Carbios, which applies biochemistry to recycling or composting.
And plastic degraded by prolonged contact with air and water, like the one that pollutes oceans and beaches, is the subject of experimentation, hoping to use it as a resource.
Economic leverage: new sectors under construction
Efficient recycling techniques may well have been proven. The condition sine qua non for the industry to invest in the processing of sorted products lies in the existence of opportunities to market the raw material from recycling. It is for this reason that China’s adoption of more restrictive conditions regarding the quality of imported secondary raw materials may well upset the circular economy worldwide for several years. And it is also why the question of encouraging producers to incorporate more recycled material, despite sometimes uncompetitive prices compared to the virgin raw material, is one of the main chapters in the development of road map of the circular economy in France.
The development of real sectors is thus the subject of projects designed by the waste producers themselves, which, driven by both image objectives and economic objectives, finance the exploration phase. In a construction site in Bagneux, for example, Bouygues launched a first test on an industrial scale to recover 80% of its waste. Sometimes it is rather within the framework of industrial centers that unsuspected channels develop, the falls of some becoming the resources of others.
Digital lever: the digital vector of rapprochement
The circular economy is also benefiting from the growth of digital technologies. These facilitate the meeting between supply and demand, thus helping to change behavior. The field of the fight against food waste is the most obvious example. Too Good To Go, Eqosphere, Jette Pas Share, A Fourmii Green are some of the applications that, in the wake of the law Garot of 2016, put merchants or distributors in contact with associations or individuals, in order to save the food of the trash and better feed the poor. Construction, which generates 70% of the waste produced in France, and electrical and electronic products, rich in rare metals, threatened with exhaustion, are other sectors where the creation of digital the rise of a more circular approach.
The entire logistics of waste management is likely to be strongly impacted. In the US, Rubicon Global, dubbed the «Uber of Waste», disrupted the sector by conducting online auctions for its customers’ waste management contracts. Suez – which holds a 2% stake in Rubicon – has launched a similar market place in France for transactions between producers of green waste and operators of biogas plants. In Africa and Asia, Veolia is seeing the growing number of digital intermediation platforms in order to improve relations between waste producers, collectors and recyclers, thus contributing to the structuring of a still largely informal market.
Social leverage: local and collective as sources of innovation
Prior to the industrial revolution, the circular economy challenged the linear and globalized production processes that characterized the rise of the consumer society. Its development requires – and induces – therefore also a certain amount of social innovation. The creation of loops of material and energy flows as local as possible puts the emphasis on the territories, by redoing cities, villages, neighborhoods or communities the protagonists of projects targeted to their specific needs and the pooling of resources previously wasted.
A striking example is that of Île-de-France, where the French Environment and Energy Management Agency (Ademe) has just calculated the potential of the deadly energy produced by the industry. data centers, wastewater and waste incineration units in the region: 6,500 GWh recoverable thanks to the proximity between producers and potential consumers, and which could help to catch up with the region’s lagging energy transition. 900 GWh could even come from thirty existing projects. In the agricultural world, participation in collective methanisation projects generates additional income for farmers. And in Paris, the circular economy is promoted to take advantage of the «proximity of individuals and structures».