Only around ten companies currently collect waste from SMEs in France. New laws oblige businesses to separate their waste paper, but big change will not come without bigger incentives, Fabien de Castilla told EURACTIV’s partner La Tribune.
Fabien de Castilla is co-founder of the business waste collection company Les Joyeux Recycleurs.
Are today’s businesses better or worse than individuals when it comes to recycling?
They are worse, without a doubt. Individuals in France recycle about two thirds of their waste, but businesses recycle no more than half.
Do they have to recycle?
Responsibility for the collection and processing of household waste falls to local authorities, but according to the law, businesses are responsible for their own waste. So in theory, they are not allowed to use the bins that are provided for their neighbours. If they want the local authority to collect their waste they have to ask for separate bins, and pay for them.
But the Energy Transition Law now obliges all companies to recycle their waste (with different deadlines depending on their size [for companies of more than 100 employees, the obligation came into force on 1 July]), as well as to collect paper separately.
What are the main factors holding back progress?
Beside the positive effects for their reputation, internal cohesion, etc., good waste management does not bring companies any direct economic gains. And while some big companies may produce enough waste to interest private recyclers, SMEs do not have enough choice when it comes to simple waste collection.
The waste sorting rules and the number of actors involved make the process very complicated. On top of this there is a lack of transparency surrounding how sorted waste is used and what financial or social incentives could encourage sorting. This is a shame, because from a technical point of view, virtually everything is recyclable.
How big is this market?
With a few exceptions in the new technologies sectors, each employee of a company throws away an average of 5kg of paper every month. This represents 80% of office waste. And it means that between them, France’s 25 million working citizens generate more than one billion tonnes of waste every year.
But only about ten waste companies cater specifically for France’s 3.7 million SMEs. And these tend to be concentrated in the big cities, with three in Paris. What is more, 99% of our clients, who pay on average €100 per month, did not previously recycle their waste. This is a worrying observation, but it highlights the enormous potential of this sector.
What about the public sector?
The public sector is also legally required to sort its waste. But we have no data on how it is collected and processed.
Was a compulsory system really needed to improve performance in this area?
The educational impact of the new law is certainly a positive thing. But the possible sanctions are weak and checks are unlikely to take place, at least in the medium term. It would have been more effective to encourage businesses to start recycling wit subsidies, bonuses, etc. In fact, we have seen that waste sorting has already become a natural reaction, especially as many employees already do it at home.
If a new public policy generates costs, it will also trigger savings: we should not forget that each tonne of waste treated by local authorities costs €100 to collect and €100 to process.