In March 2016, La REcyclerie set up a series of conferences highlighting European countries’ sustainable development initiatives: «Europe of the possible«. A core partner of this program and of La REcyclerie, the Veolia Foundation organized a series of five conferences focusing on the circular economy. The fourth was held on Monday, September 26 and addressed a major issue: how can the circular economy serve the climate?
The conference was moderated by Bénédicte Niel, a member ofCliMates, an international think-tank made up of young people involved in the fight against climate change.
A few weeks before COP22, the Veolia Foundation in particular wanted to address young people by giving them the keys to a more responsible economy.
The Earth is warming up
Some of the so called greenhouse gases, mainly CO2 and methane, trap heat in the atmosphere, causing climate change. For 150 years, the amount of these gases has increased significantly worldwide, mainly due to human activity. Burning fossil fuels – used in many industrial processes – and intensive cultivation of the soil are the cause of increased CO2 in the atmosphere. Methane meanwhile, is generated in large quantities by livestock breeding activities and by the decomposition of waste.
The result is worrying: since the mid-nineteenth century, the Earth’s temperature has been rising inexorably.
Climate change: it’s time for action
According to Emeric Fortin, researcher and professor at the École des Ponts, one thing is certain: we must act!
In a context where there is no certainty about the evolution of climate change, two effective options are available to us: the «no regrets strategy» and the circular economy.
«The no regrets strategy» brings together all the actions taken to reduce the impact of our activities on the environment and which also represent a gain: lower costs, job creation, etc. However climate change develops, these are useful and cost-effective measures.
But the circular economy creates virtuous loops within a territory. For example recovering biogas from landfills or waste heat from factories -turning them into energy for the benefit of nearby players.
Recycling: a circular route to achieving the COP21goals
During COP21, the international community agreed to contain global climate warming to below 2 °C. To achieve this goal, theIPCC calculated that we should extract no more than 20% of the planet’s natural resources, and keep 80% in the natural environment.
The circular economy contributes to this goal: in order to extract the minimum amount of resources, the idea is to recycle or recover our waste. However of the 4 billion tonnes of waste produced each year worldwide, only 25% is currently recovered. A disheartening figure when we know that 80% of the content of our garbage cans can be recycled. Fortunately, there are a number of initiatives that are leading the way…
Rostock: recycling plastic bottles to reduce CO2 emissions
In Rostock, in Germany, a plant has developed an innovative process for recycling plastic bottles. The bottles are sorted by color, ground to obtain PET flakes and then washed. A mechanical and chemical recovery process enables them to be used once again for food. They are then packed and sent to manufacturers who then turn them into new bottles.
This solution is particularly useful because producing plastics seriously harms the environment: it requires a large amount of oil that when burned generates large amounts of CO2. In addition, plastic takes more than 4000 years to degrade in the environment.
In total, the Rostock plant annually recycles 1 billion plastic bottles. This represents a saving of 31,000 tonnes of oil, or 113,000 tonnes of CO2. This is equivalent to the annual emissions of 20,000 French people. This result is possible because the plant has adequate supplies. The Germans are some of the best recyclers in Europe: 65% of their waste is recycled.
Circular solutions on the COP21 solutions agenda
For the circular economy to have a real impact on climate, it has to deployed on a large scale. In 2015, three measures proposed by the Institut de L’Economie Circulaire were on the COP21 solutions agenda:
- Develop international cooperation platforms. Just as was done for the climate globally, it is urgent to ensure there is strong cooperation on issues of resource management and the circular economy.
- Adapt taxation. This is one of the major levers in driving behavioral change. Like the carbon tax or landfill taxes, it is about taxing activities that pollute and reducing taxes on virtuous activities.
- Trigger territorial strategies. The circular economy is territorial. It develops mostly at the local level as it is a question of making energy transfers between geographically close players. In this respect public procurement can play a very important role in creating a genuine industrial ecology and encouraging cooperation between businesses in the same area.
The issue of civic responsibility
To conclude the conference, Bénédicte Niel shared the experience of CliMates. Pondering on their personal responsibility, the members concluded that the first action for which they were responsible as citizens was to learn about their own environmental footprint. «Learning about your lifestyle, is taking responsibility» she said.
Which should remind us that the circular economy is everyone’s business and that change must first be driven by the people…