Recycling – a strategic pillar of the circular economy


More than just an option, recycling has turned into an ecological must and is set to become a regulatory obligation as we transition towards the circular economy.

Faced with the gradual depletion of resources, recycling encourages optimising raw materials, minimising the consumption of disposable and single-use products, as well as the reduction of waste production. 

Key figures for recycling

Recycling takes place at the end of the product life cycle through the treatment of waste. It also takes place at the beginning of the life cycle of recycled materials for the manufacture of new sustainable packaging.

According to the latest figures from the Ministry of Ecological Transition for the year 2018, there are 343 million tonnes of waste produced in France.

According to the ADEME (Agency for the Environment and Energy Management), waste is divided into three categories:

  • Household waste represents 9% of the total volume of waste produced in France, whose variety of raw materials makes recycling more complex. 47% of household waste is recycled (new raw materials), or directed towards organic and energy recovery (transformed into compost or biogas).
  • 21% of waste comes from businesses (industry or commerce), 60-70% of which is directed to recycling.
  • The construction sector generates 70% of waste, of which 80% is inert mineral materials (concrete, bricks, etc.), which are not harmful to the environment and can be reused or recycled.

The recycling process has become a strong source of industrial supply and contributes to:

  • 67% of the paper industry.
  • 49% of the steel industry.
  • 58% of the glass industry.
The recycling process supplies 58% of the glass industry with raw material.

Recycling’s ambitions within the circular economy

The seven major pillars of the circular economy encompass sustainable sourcing, eco-design, industrial and territorial ecology, the functionality economy, responsible consumption, life extension, and recycling.

The latter is a key position to bridge the gap between the end of the product life cycle, and the replenishment for the creation of sustainable packaging through the revalorisation of materials. 

Depending on the level of degradation of the raw material, two types of recycling can be distinguished:

  • Closed-loop recycling: using the raw material for recycling (RWM) for the same purpose and use – glass bottle to glass bottle, etc.
  • Open-loop recycling: using the PRM for a different purpose, but replacing a virgin raw material, such as recycling a PET bottle into fleece, for example.

Following the promulgation of Law No. 2015-992 of 17 August 2015 on the energy transition for green growth, the objectives and obligations of manufacturers in terms of recycling to be part of a circular economy have been clearly redefined by 2025:

  • Overall recycling of 65% of non-hazardous waste.
  • Sorting obligation for industrial producers and holders of waste from their economic activity: paper and cardboard, metals, plastics, glass, wood and organic waste.
  • Generalization of the sorting at the source of bio-waste, for all types of producers.

The goal is to achieve 100% plastic recycling as an environmental challenge.

Goal: 100% plastic recycling by 2025.

Recycling challenges for France and the EU

In the medium and long term, the challenges of recycling are based on prevention, in order to minimise the production of waste at source, and the reuse of raw materials to restrict supply.

Following the Green Pact for Europe, the revision of EU legislation proposes three areas for improvement:

  • Reducing the production of packaging waste, in particular through the promotion of refillable or reusable packaging solutions.
  • Convert all packaging on the EU market to being recyclable by 2030.
  • Increase the use of recycled plastics in packaging.

Finally, the large-scale target is to reduce packaging waste by 15% per EU member state and per capita by 2040.
These perspectives make recycling a central pillar of the circular economy in the long term.

See you at the next edition of ALL4PACK Emballage Paris 2024 to discover all the advances in the world of recycling!

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