Why France is becoming the new Eldorado of the circular economy #318


The circular economy is the star of foreign investment in France. Eastman, Ikea, Loop… these giants will commit billions in France to develop circular economy projects including “the world’s largest molecular plastics recycling plant.” An opportunity for France to shift industrial models towards greater sustainability, while reducing its dependence on raw materials.

France has been chosen by foreign investors to deploy their circular economy activities. The American Eastman is mobilizing 850 million euros to build “the largest molecular plastics recycling plant in the world” in order to “develop the circular economy”. The goal is to recycle 160,000 tons of waste per year, including textiles. As for the Quebec-based Loop, it is partnering with Suez to develop plastic recycling projects worth 250 million euros. Ikea, meanwhile, has announced an investment of more than €650 million for circular economy projects in France.

“These investments are very good news, they will allow France to go from being an average student to a good student,” says Eric Berger, industry project manager at the Shift Project. The country currently has a plastic recycling rate of less than 30%, whereas France wants to become exemplary in this area with the ambition of recycling 100% of plastic by 2025. These new capacities will also reduce French exports of plastic waste, which amounted to 750,000 tons in 2020 according to Ademe, while more and more countries refuse to process them. The public authorities are therefore rolling out the red carpet for these circular economy projects: within the framework of Choose France, the public aid granted is between 5% and 10% of the amount of the investments.

Industrial demand is exploding

Demand from French manufacturers, driven by new regulations, is strong. Even before it was built, the Loop plant had already sold its recycled plastic to Danone, L’Oréal and L’Occitane, which are aiming for 100% recycled or bio-sourced packaging by 2025 or 2030. The same success for Eastman, which has received letters of intent from LVMH, Estée Lauder and Procter & Gamble. “Manufacturers also want to improve their carbon footprint and environmental labeling, including on scope 3, which means taking into account the impact of all materials used,” says Sébastien Delpont, spokesman for Greenflex, a company that supports companies in their ecological transition. In a context of shortages, local recycled materials also help secure supplies.

As a result, the demand for recycled material is higher than the supply and the price of recycled plastic is rising. It is therefore becoming profitable to produce recycled plastic and the circular economy is gaining an attractive economic model. “A change in industrial models towards more circularity is taking place with, at the end of the day, the creation of non relocatable jobs”, notes Emmanuelle Ledoux, General Manager of the National Institute of Circular Economy (Inec). This deployment is also facilitated by the existence of “an ecosystem established in France with the presence of champions, such as Veolia or Suez, but also of innovative companies”, adds the specialist. For example, the French company Carbios, which invented the infinite recycling of plastic waste thanks to a new biological process, is based in Clermont-Ferrand.

However, for the circular economy to take off, “France still needs to improve collection, which remains a problem,” says Alexis Lemeillet, an expert in waste prevention and management. The stakes are high for France, which, with the development of such channels, seeks to “regain autonomy over raw materials, in the same way that the State seeks energy independence,” says Sébastien Delpont.