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Circular economy: France pioneers the anti-waste campaign

It’s a world first: from 2021, French businesses will be required to recover, reuse or recycle all unsold produce, or face financial penalties. This is one of the flagship measures of the draft anti-waste bill for a circular economy championed by the government of French President Emmanuel Macron.

 

The day after New Year celebrations, Europeans were shocked by the images of a well-known international retailer destroying its unsold products in its warehouses in Germany and France. In the clothing industry, the big-name brands have also been castigated for their practices – some even go as far as burning several million euros’ worth of new clothes.

41.2 tonnes of food are thrown away every second across the world.

Donate or recycle

In France, over 650 million euros’ worth of new, non-perishable items (household appliances, clothing, toys, hygiene and beauty products, and so on) are thrown away or destroyed every year… That’s five times more than the number of donations recorded for the same type of products!

“These products (…) which have not found a home (…) are all too often destroyed or burned, or end up in the landfill – they are never recycled. This type of wasteful behaviour is shocking to us, it’s a scandalous form of waste,” argued the French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe, who is determined to point businesses in the direction of the circular economy. How? By forcing them to hand over their unsold products or recycle them. The measure will come into force as of 2021 for products for which a collection and recycling industry already exists, and at the end of 2023 at the latest for others. It is to be noted that exceptions will be granted for the luxury industry – flagship of the French economy – which has expressed concern that its products will end up for sale on a parallel market.

Three years after passing a series of coercive measures to combat food wastage (in the hotel and catering industry, within local authorities and supermarkets and hypermarkets), this new measure – billed as the first of its kind in the world – establishes France as the anti-waste figurehead. But the French government aims to go a lot further, thanks to the far-reaching draft bill currently being discussed by parliament, which will have an impact on many industries.

“The government is determined to speed up changes in production and consumption models, in order to limit waste and preserve our natural resources, biodiversity and the climate.” 

French government press release on 10 July, 2019

Combating overproduction

Putting a stop to wastage in order to preserve natural resources, encouraging manufacturers to transform their production methods, boosting the information available to consumers and improving the way waste is collected: these are some of the major features of the bill, that ushers in a new economic paradigm, in which donating and recycling are more profitable than throwing away, and overproduction is no longer an option.

It begins with the eradication of single-use plastic items, as has been announced by the European Parliament. Coffee stirrers, cotton swabs, disposable plates and cutlery, along with plastic straws, will be banned in France as early as 2020, and the deposit system will be making a comeback in retail – as is already the case in Germany, where 90 % of drinking bottles are brought back for recycling. The French government’s objective is to recycle 100 % of plastic by 2025 (compared with just 20 % at present). Another feature of the bill is the fight against planned obsolescence, via the setting up of a “repairability” score for electrical and electronic appliances as of 2020.

The bill also includes a commitment to applying the “polluter pays” principle: the extended accountability chains incumbent on producers (already in place for household appliances and electronic items) will be extended to many other sectors (sport, cigarettes, DIY, toys, gardening, etc.), forcing manufacturers or retailers to bear the cost of collecting and reprocessing the resulting waste. Finally, by putting in place a bonus-malus system that aims to lower the price of virtuous products and penalise polluting products, France hopes to give impetus to the eco-design process, to treat the problem at the root.

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