• In business, no matter how much we sort it out, we never really know what happens next. Whether in our home, but also in business.
  • The second case is interesting because according to figures from the Agency for Ecological Transition, Ademe, each employee produces between 120 and 140 kg of waste in his workplace per year.
  • Yet the recycling rate for some materials remains quite low. On World Recycling Day, this Saturday, "20 Minutes" wondered why.

This is perhaps one of the greatest mysteries of our daily lives: recycling. We can sort our waste every day, but knowing where it goes next is still very unclear. A recent Guardian investigation published in August showed that recycling – especially plastic – was a myth. The journalist highlighted a figure: of the 8.3 billion tons of plastic produced worldwide, the recycling rate was only 9%. Only, everything that is not recycled falls into an obscure industry, that of waste. If not destroyed locally in Europe, the waste is sent to Asia to find a new life.

But why can't we recycle all of our waste - which is sorted by the sweat of every French person's brow on a daily basis? Take the case of companies, for example. On average, according to 2018 ADEME figures, office life represents 2.4 million tons of waste produced in France. Since 2016, companies with more than 20 employees have been obliged to sort office papers. And in 2018, new categories of waste were added to these obligations: cardboard, plastics and cans. However, the recycling rate is far from 100%. For plastic cans and bottles, the figure is 61%, compared to a recycling rate of 35% for waste paper.

A sorting never perfect

To better understand where our waste goes, visit a sorting center in Gennevilliers (Hauts-de-Seine), where 20 Minutes met Constance Bachoud, Director of Innovation, Circular Economy and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) at Tri-o Greenwishes. This company serves as a kind of waste concierge. "We prepare the work for the recycling industry," summarizes Constance Bachoud. If companies now have the obligation to set up recycling on their premises, the result is not always perfect. "Even if the employees do it best, there is always a small handkerchief lying around and it is absolutely necessary that we have a separation by materials."

In these 2,000 m2 of warehouse, waste is collected, weighed and sorted. On one side, plastic bottles, on the other cans. Then further, the hand towels. After sorting, the waste forms a column of pallet boxes and once its sufficient number is reached, everything passes into an artificial intelligence machine with robotic arms. After that, everything is massified and takes the vertiginous form of a column of one and the same material. Then, the sorted waste is back on the road to recycling plants located throughout France.

The scourge of plastic

So why are recycling rates still so low today? "On materials that are very old and that we have known for a long time - glass, metal, paper, cardboard - the recycling system is very, very well established," explains Constance Bachoud. The bête noire of recycling today remains plastic that exists in different functions and forms. "The first use, at least for packaging, is to protect a product," says the director of innovation. However, some packaging can sometimes mix different types of plastic, which makes recycling even more complicated.

Take the case of yogurt pots, for example. As soon as they are scored, the packaging is mostly made of polystyrene, a type of plastic different from bottles for example. "A first challenge is that as soon as it arrives in the sorting center, it will go through a set of machines. The yogurt pot is quite fragile, if you swing it in all directions, it will break. How are you going to get your yogurt pot back when you have huge machines? And are we willing to pay for the fact of sorting behind knowing that there are still many constraints? " asks Constance Bachoud. For the latter, there are still many investments to be made on plastic, which represents "a great challenge". If not the biggest recycling today.

"Pushing the regulatory part"

In the coming years, however, the anti-waste law for a circular economy - known as AGEC - is likely to change the situation. "We will see the development of re-employment," says Constance Bachoud. Indeed, since January 1, 2023, restaurants and fast food can no longer serve their meal in disposable dishes... This could ultimately greatly reduce company waste.

But to reduce the environmental impact of companies and their waste on a daily basis, Constance Bachoud also advocates more legal frameworks. "We should push the regulatory part on the issue of collection, that companies are really obliged to do it." Then, stricter controls could also be put in place within companies to ensure that everyone is playing the game.

And the food industry in all this? Could they be forced in the future to develop materials that are easier to recycle? In recent years, they have already had the obligation to integrate more and more recycling. "In addition, the France is subject to a plastic tax like other European countries on plastic recycling. And since the recycling rate on plastic is not great, the France has paid a lot of money," adds Constance Bachoud. Conversations are still ongoing between the two sectors. "But it's very long," regrets our interlocutor.

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