Reduction and recycling of waste is a major political issue governed by European Union law. Each member state is accordingly charged with the national implementation of the laws and directives adopted by the EU. On 18 January 2019, the CSF for Waste Transformation and Recycling signed a key agreement with a number of French ministries. The outcome was six large-scale projects “to address the sector’s biggest challenges and development.”
What are the six challenges in the agreement on waste recycling?
For several years now, France has undertaken to actively tackle environmental challenges and fight global warming. Faced with the challenge of industry transition, where production practices and consumption patterns are moving to a more sustainable model, the French government has devised a national plan for waste management. Presented in April 2018 by the French Ministry for the Ecological and Inclusive Transition, the “Transformation and recycling of waste” agreement drawn up by the CSF was signed on 18 January 2019 by Brune Poirson, the French Secretary of State for Ecological Transition, Agnès Pannier-Runacher, the French Secretary of State for the Economy and Public Finances, and Jean-Louis Chaussade, Chairman of the CSF for Waste Transformation and Recycling.
More than just the French government’s answer to Article 28 of the 2008/98/EC Waste Framework Directive, the CSF is a true teaching tool. In a single document, it presents France’s national system for managing waste and compiles in one place all the country’s measures and legislative policies in force. The result of several months of talks, it aims particularly to reduce consumption of resources through the improved collection of waste and through removing the obstacles to the development of waste recycling (goal: 100% of plastics recycled by 2025). Six formative projects core to this inter-ministerial agreement were retained by the signatories, which correspond to the six principal challenges faced by the sector.
The six projects shaping waste transformation and recycling
1. Extending the incorporation of recycling’s raw materials into finished products
The first project seeks to support and encourage industrial capacity for the sorting, recycling and regeneration of waste to sustainably improve the economic competitiveness of recycled rather than virgin raw materials. The goal is to provoke thought and encourage industry coordination so that waste-sorting capacities are increased and more recycled raw materials go into new products. With this first project, the signatories aim to gradually reduce the quantity of waste going to landfill. To achieve this, new recycling solutions need to be found to better adapt the services offered by recycling players to the needs of industries consuming the materials. Through this first project, the sector has committed to go beyond what it has to date undertaken voluntarily, through studying and experimenting with economic incentive schemes (such as a points system) to encourage the incorporation of recycled materials. It will address three facets: the quantity, quality and cost of materials needed.
2. Developing a fully-fledged SRF sector in France
Although the volume of residual domestic waste per head of population has continually fallen, the volume of household and similar waste coming into waste-sorting centres continues to grow. In recent years, the amount of waste sorted has increased considerably, but not all is recyclable (waste-sorting centres refuse to treat soiled waste, waste that cannot be recycled using industrial processes, and more). This rejected waste is then processed into solid recovered fuel (SRF) for the production of energy (heat and/or electricity). This second project therefore aims to encourage the development of SRF energy recovery as a fully-fledged sector in France by supporting the first years of development. Currently, the sector faces the problem that it is not yet competitive when compared to fossil fuels (oil, gas, coal). To overcome this, five actions can be pursued:
– Studying and comparing the SRF sector’s costs through the entire value chain relative to the costs of fossil fuels
– Investing in units dedicated to SRF use
– Supporting the competitiveness of SRF energy
– Creating mechanisms to support the operating costs of facilities using SRF
– Researching and experimenting with new applications for SRF
3. Supporting recyclability and recycling potential
To further improve levels of recycling performance, it is essential to take into account the recyclability of products entering the market right from the earliest design stages. To be better taken into account, the ecodesign of products should be a topic of discussion between all stakeholders. With this third project, the sector then seeks to encourage the structuring of all players in the market into an expert recycling network. The aim is to reduce the number of non-recyclable products entering the market. The network’s purpose will then be to provide information on the true recyclability of the products and advise on best ecodesign practices. The network will also identify and define what is needed in the materials, in order to effectively respond to the new quality requirements and consequently invest appropriately in the necessary upgrades.
4. Speeding up the robotization of waste-sorting centres
To meet the growing demand for recyclable raw materials, improving and increasing the rate of waste-sorting is a fundamental challenge for the sector. Developments in robotization and the application of artificial intelligence are today emerging as key prospects for development. However, optimising waste-sorting centres to best leverage these technologies will require greater research and development, and consequently greater investment. The fourth project therefore seeks to use investment and innovation to support the introduction of robotization and artificial intelligence into waste-sorting centres. One benefit of these innovations will be better recognition of the different types of waste to help refine the recycling of materials. Behind this fourth project is also the challenge of improving the perception of recycling operatives, and the evolution of their roles, which remain today unskilled and arduous. By sharing these innovations and areas of expertise between the industries, the project aims to create French expertise unique in the world.
5. Developing the international presence of French companies
French industries have been at the forefront of environmental matters globally for several years. The French environmental services industry operates globally, comprising players from large groups through to SMEs. So in order to take on competition in other countries, it is essential for a synergy to be created between the industry’s various sectors and companies. The fifth project in the CSF agreement therefore aims to strengthen ties between French industry players in the long term. This will help stimulate the growth of small businesses and give them a firmer footing in the global market. The end goal is to increase and bolster exports of recycled raw materials and French expertise to other countries.
6. Supporting jobs and skills development
Companies in environmental services have to address constant regulatory changes, both nationally and internationally, regarding protection of the environment and conservation of biodiversity. First to be impacted by such changes are waste-sorting centres, which then have to develop their skills and adapt roles to meet the new requirements. New professions and new needs are constantly emerging. To meet these challenges, the sixth project in the Waste Transformation and Recycling CSF agreement aims to support waste-sorting centres as their operations evolve and help them embrace changes in their field. The project will produce a shared assessment of the changes in question and their consequences in order to determine new skills, training courses and certifications. The circular economy is emerging as a new sector, creating jobs and new qualifications.
In short, a big step for waste recycling
Through the Waste Transformation and Recycling CSF agreement, the French government and representatives of the environmental services market aim to meet the challenges ahead and support the sector’s shift towards a competitive, environmentally-friendly, circular economy. These structural changes require effective coordination between all links in the chain, especially in implementing approaches to ecodesign. To make the circular economy part of tomorrow’s modes of production and consumption, new technologies and skills will have to be developed. Supported by investment, these will help improve complex recycling processes. Today, these changes are already creating new jobs and qualifications in the sector. With this CSF agreement, the French government and the Waste Transformation and Recycling CSF are ensuring the cooperation and coordination tools are in place to best prepare to meet the new challenges and opportunities within the environmental sector.
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