A natural capital for a circular economy

©Orelie Grimaldi

Over the last century, resource extraction from non-renewable stocks has grown while extraction from renewable stocks has declined, reflecting the shift in the global economy base from agriculture to industry. 

Once accounting for some 75% of global material extraction, biomass today accounts for less than a third of total extraction, according to a 2013 OECD report; non-renewable resource extraction now represents over two-thirds of global material extraction. In just 30 years, the quantity of materials extracted for consumption has increased by 60%, a fifth of which ends up as waste. As an OECD Insights blog points out, that is over 12 billion tonnes of waste per year, or the equivalent in weight of more than 21,000 Airbus A380s. Breaking the link between economic growth and material extraction is fast becoming a public policy concern, giving rise to a “circular economy” in which rather than being extracted, consumed and thrown away, products are reused and remanufactured in a loop, with waste reworked or kept to a minimum in a bid not just to preserve diversity and resources, but to restore them. The City of Paris is a proponent of the circular economy, though as these three examples show, closing the loop is a resource challenge in its own right.  

Klep, Maroussia (2014), “Making obsolescence obsolete: design to reduce waste”, on OECD Insights blog, OECD Publishing, http://oe.cd/KG

OECD (2013), Material Resources, Productivity and the Environment, OECD Publishing, http://oe.cd/1aL  

Ressourcerie Créative; UpCycly; Moulinot Compost & Biogaz

Creative recycling at the Ressourcerie Créative

The Ressourcerie Créative, a new social and solidarity economy (SSE) organisation created with the support of the City of Paris, has taken up residence on the site of the old Saint-Vincent de Paul hospital in the 14th arrondissement (district).  

The basic premise is to provide a place where, using a social and supportive approach, people can donate unwanted objects, find bargains and attend creative workshops.  

Sabine Arrondelle, co-ordinator of the recycling centre and originator of the project, is delighted with the progress. “Since we opened on 1 September, over ten tonnes of ‘rubbish’ have been upcycled. We want to collect and reuse as much as we can.”  

To start with, objects in good condition are put on display in the store, where anything and everything can be found. The remaining items are used in various creative and repair workshops covering areas and objects such as small electrical appliances, woodwork, furniture customisation, sewing and small decorations. The result is a new lease of life for a wide range of products and materials.  

In addition, partnerships with sustainable waste treatment organisations like Valdélia and Éco-mobilier help with the recycling of furniture which has been donated or remains unsold. A lot of items are donated to the association Aurore, which has premises on the same site where it operates as a refuge for people in crisis or distress. The close relationship with Aurore is very rewarding, as many of the Ressourcerie’s volunteers are housed by Aurore.  

From the outset, the Ressourcerie Créative wanted to join the national network of sorting and recycling centres (Réseau des Ressourceries) in order to benefit from its experience, and Sabine Arrondelle successfully completed its training course on how to set up a recycling centre. At present, the Ressourcerie Créative has four employees and numerous volunteers. Visitors receive a warm welcome, regardless of whether they have come to donate or to visit the store.  

That said, its future remains uncertain. The main challenge when opening a sorting and recycling centre, especially in Paris, is to find premises. The Ressourcerie Créative currently has a three-month lease, with a guarantee of a renewal until mid-2017. After that, it will have to find another site, unless the City of Paris manages to find it a place in a future eco-district.  

Other than premises, financing has to be found. The Réseau des Ressourceries advocates financial autonomy, with a maximum number of service agreements. Lastly, a real ability to generate cash flow is required at the start, as aid is often conditional on expenditures.  



At the end of 2013, a young father called Wassim Chelfi was looking for a way to generate environmental and social value by using his professional expertise in information technology. He noticed that our built-up urban environment, while cruelly lacking in green spaces, has a plentiful supply of reusable waste. So he set about testing different ways of reintroducing greenery into the city by using waste products as a raw material, and began by organising workshops for children to make things with plants.

The success of his initiative encouraged Wassim Chelfi to reach out to a wider audience. He planned and organised the first UpCycly Fest in the murs à pêche district of Montreuil in the east of the city, a hands-on event in which everyone was invited to transform waste materials into furniture and support structures for plants. This event was a major success and attracted over 500 visitors who helped create composters, planters and the like, and provided proof of both the validity and the feasibility of the concept.

The next challenge was to use this experience to create an economically self-sufficient business model without compromising any values. Thanks to the support of Sensecube, an incubator of social start-ups, Wassim Chelfi defined UpCycly’s mission and developed several activities using the expertise acquired in his public workshops, such as courses in landscaping, team building and creating customised furniture. The challenge now facing UpCycly is to scale up its activities in order to increase its impact and expand into other regions. Marc Jourdaine, UpCycly


Paris, food and biowaste

Moulinot Compost & Biogaz, a young start-up specialised in collecting, sorting and recycling biowaste from hotels and restaurants, is gearing up for a its latest challenge: to manage the biowaste generated by COP21, the UN Conference on Climate Change in November/ December 2015.

Stéphan Martinez, who founded the company, is an environmentally conscious restaurant owner. In 2007, he started looking into ways to transform leftovers and kitchen scraps into soil using worm-based methods called vermicomposting. In 2012, with the support of the National Union of Hotel, Restaurant and Café Owners and Caterers, he launched a vast pilot project to recover biowaste from 80 Parisian hotels and restaurants. Between February and November 2014, Moulinot trucks collected 580 tonnes of biowaste which were transported to a biogas processing plant in the nearby Essonne department for transformation into natural gas and heat. The test phase was a resounding success, exceeding the projected targets almost threefold. The aim now is to pursue this initiative on a sustainable basis and extend it nationwide in order to help all establishments producing at least 10 tonnes a year of biowaste a year (versus 20 tonnes at present) meet their obligation as of 2016 to separate biowaste at source for organic recovery.

Many restaurant owners already choose to recycle their biowaste, even when they are not obliged to do so by law. For Martinez, this is “genuine civic commitment” and he deplores “the financial surcharge on professionals who have to pay for biowaste collection, even though they already pay the tax on the removal of household refuse”. In his opinion, environmental tax is a key issue in the development of this practice, as volunteers have to pay out of their own pockets while nothing is levied on those who do nothing. As he says, “It’s a reward for bad behaviour, and it needs to stop”. Fabien Delory, Director, Moulinot Compost & Biogaz


©OECD Observer No 304, November 2015

Economic data

GDP growth: -9.8% Q2/Q1 2020 2020
Consumer price inflation: 1.3% Sep 2020 annual
Trade (G20): -17.7% exp, -16.7% imp, Q2/Q1 2020
Unemployment: 7.3% Sep 2020
Last update: 10 Nov 2020

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