Recycling regulation in France

In France, waste treatment is governed by an increasing number of regulations, which set the national goals for waste recovery. For a clearer picture, let’s look back over the main laws adopted in the last 40 years and more.

Recycling, Paprec Group

The Act of 15 July 1975

While this founding text has been amended since, it has the merit of being the first of its kind in France, and of laying the foundations for all future regulations.

 
When it was adopted, local authorities became responsible for collecting, transporting and treating household waste, so as to avoid “any risk to the environment and human health”; the “polluter pays” principle was devised to fund the new system (by directly taxing households themselves) and the main tenets of selective collection were established to “facilitate the recovery of reusable materials, elements or forms of energy”.  

 
Moreover, this act also specified a definition of waste that is still applicable today: “Waste is defined as any by-product of a process of production, conversion or use, any substance, material or more generally any movable asset that is abandoned or that its owner chooses to dispose of.” 

Recycling, Paprec Group

The Act of 13 July 1992

Also known as the Royal Act (after then-environment minister Ségolène Royal), it modernised French waste management and strengthened the provisions of the 1975 act.

 
Only final waste could now be stored in landfills (under increasingly stringent conditions); materials could only be transported limited distances and in limited volumes; waste recovery for reuse, recycling or any other action designed to produce new raw materials (or energy) was strongly recommended; and plans applicable on varying administrative levels (regional, interregional, departmental or interdepartmental) were introduced to make it easier to dispose of materials. 

 
The aim was to produce less waste by increasing the costs of treating it, and by promoting the systematic sorting and recycling of household or industrial waste.

Grenelle de l'environnement

The Grenelle 1 Act

Enacted in July 2009, the  Grenelle de l’environnement “planning and steering” Act had the following aims, among others :
 

  • 7% reduction in the production of household waste by 2014
  • Increase in material and organic recycling to achieve a recovery rate of 35% in 2012 (then 45% in 2015)
  • 15% reduction in the quantity of waste sent to landfills or incinerated
  • Planned rise of 75% in the recycling rate for household packaging waste in the space of 3 years. 
Grenelle, Paprec Group

The Grenelle 2 Act

Passed by parliament the following year, in July 2010, this act translated the programme set out by the first Grenelle Act into obligations, prohibitions and permissions.

 
In practice, it entailed amending pre-existing codes (those pertaining to urban development, the environment, local authorities and sea ports) and devising the operational implementation of the 2009 proposals for action at the right regional levels, using the appropriate financial tools and recycling solutions.

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The waste reduction and recovery plan 2014-2020

A crucial step in the history of recycling in France, this plan is an extension of the “circular economy” strand of the “energy transition for green growth” bill.

 
Its main goal is to halve the quantity of waste sent to landfills by 2025, reducing it by at least 30% between 2014 and 2020.

 
It has the guiding principle of sending less to landfills and recycling more to reduce the environmental impact of waste, but also kick-starting various recycling sectors, which are big job creators.  

 
Here are its five headline measures :
 

  • Increasing sorting and recycling in the construction sector by expanding the network of professional waste recycling centres across the whole of France.
  • Rolling out paper/cardboard sorting and recycling to an increasing number of private and public sector companies.
  • Reducing to zero the food waste sent to landfills by combating waste and installing more than 25,000 new shared composters.
  • Combating illegal waste treatment and recycling actors, especially in the vehicle demolition sector.
  • Banning single-use plastic bags from 1 January 2016.
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BOX : FIVE OFFICIAL DEFINITIONS

  • What is recycling ? 

 
Officially, and according to the French Environment and Energy Management Agency (ADEME), it is the direct reintroduction of an item of waste into the production cycle from whence it came, to totally or partially replace a new material.
 

  • Recovery, in the Act of 13 July 1992, is defined as follows: 

 
The reuse, recycling or any other action designed to produce reusable materials (or energy) from waste.”
 

  • Reuse, meanwhile, is regarded by ADEME as the use of a waste product for a purpose similar to its purpose in its first life. Such as, for example, refillable bottles.

 

  • Repurposing means using a waste product for a different purpose. Or making a new type of product from a waste product.

 

  • Regeneration is a physical or chemical process designed to reassign to a waste item its initial characteristics. This is the case today in the paper recycling sector or in the recycling of some plastic materials.

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