France adopts an anti-waste law trajectory and calendar

May 25, 2021

France adopts an anti-waste law trajectory and calendar

Olivier ABULI, Public Sector Consultant for Vetted

Anti-waste law for a circular economy : combining environmental
benefits, economic stakes and optimization of public procurement.

Although a utopian vision only ten years ago - when wind power, hybrid vehicles and organic
farming were still in their infancy - the decarbonisation of our economies is now part of a new global race for innovation and competitiveness. The European countries, whose resources in
strategic raw materials are limited, have a specific role to play.

France is setting a course and a timetable. The two "anti-waste" laws voted at the beginning of the year make the cornerstone of a set of guidelines and choices which have been negotiated and then implemented since 2015 (European commitments, consultation of local authorities, manufacturers and distributors, Citizens' Convention, etc.). Their objective is to significantly reduce our waste volume and our consumption of raw materials by 2040 by acting on the entire life cycle of products.

In order to achieve this goal, the public authorities are focusing on four founding levers.


Coercion :

The ban on single-use plastics, starting in 2021 and 2022 for some of them, is the iconic
measure of the law "for a circular economy". As it was anticipated by manufacturers, its effects
are already tangible in takeaway food outlets or supermarket shelves. Cardboard packaging and bamboo utensils are replacing plastic. Groups such as Danone and McDonald's have also announced a transformation of their packaging.


The financial penalty :

The 2019 finance law has laid the groundwork for a sharp increase by 2025 in the General Tax on Polluting Activities (TGAP), which applies to waste meant for landfill but also for incineration. Although companies are affected, it is mainly local authorities that will be impacted because of the volumes involved. As far as large cities are concerned, the bill could reach several hundred thousands or evenmillions of euros per year.


Increasing recycling performances :

The aim of this penalty on so-called "energy" recovery consists in improving the effective rates of raw materials recycling.
In the industrial sector and economic activities, they are satisfactory, varying from 55% to 70%
according to ADEME. In this case, the aim is either to restructure sectors historically
unbalanced because of externalities (as it is the case for recycled paper), or to strengthen more
recent sectors such as recycling work clothes (initiatives by the Ministry of the Armed Forces or
the SNCF are contributing to this). The evolution of standards, such as those that will be
imposed upon the buiding trade, is also intended to be part of an optimization process.
The effort to be made on household waste is more important. The flows are very heterogeneous
and the targeted recycling rate of 50% (62% in Germany) has not been reached yet (Eurostat).


Stimulating eco-design :

Anticipating the recycling of a product from the design board is fundamental. « France
relance », the recovery plan that is focused on carbon neutrality and technological and
economical independence, should therefore logically strongly support R&D and innovation in eco-design.


Mobilizing the power of public procurement

The annual national public order is worth about 400 billion €, or 16% of GDP. Since 2015, the adaptation of European directives to French law has made it possible to include social and environmental clauses in these contracts. However, although ecological issues are high on the political agenda, they are only marginally reflected in terms of public procurement. Moreover, it is only often a matter of requesting certificates or labels that are becoming commonplace !

That is why we should welcome the decree dated March 9, specifying how the AGEC law should be enforced, which establishes a minimum proportion of purchases integrating recycled materials, including a ratio highlighting reuse concerning about forty types of products. By doing so, it opens a salutary breach in the so often denounced and criticized dogma of the "lowest bidder" and the arbitrariness associated with the supremacy of "price" criteria.

In 2012 Frédéric Marty theorized a potential benefit : "the inclusion of environmental criteria in
public procurement can be beneficial for two reasons : by shifting purchases to goods that are certainly more expensive, but whose use over the entire life cycle will be more economic." (F Marty, https://halshs.archives-ouvertes.fr/halshs-00673124 )