AGEC : the challenge of recycling organic waste

Olivi­er Schoefs is a lec­tur­er-cum-research sci­en­tist work­ing in the TIMR process engi­neer­ing depart­ment and has also been its direc­tor since 2022. He works with Frédéric Huet from the UTC-THS depart­ment on the Inte­gra­tion of a so-called Envi­ron­men­tal, Eco­nom­ic and Social Dimen­sions (IDEES) project to devel­op a deci­sion-mak­ing tool for local authorities.

His research focus­es on envi­ron­men­tal bio­process­es. In oth­er words, the use of micro-organ­isms either in soil or water decon­t­a­m­i­na­tion process­es, for exam­ple, or to trans­form mat­ter into high added-val­ue prod­ucts such as bio­fu­els, bio­mol­e­cules or bio­ma­te­ri­als. These skills have led Olivi­er Schoefs to become inter­est­ed in the recov­ery of local author­i­ty waste, par­tic­u­lar­ly since the pass­ing of the anti­waste law for a cir­cu­lar econ­o­my (AGEC) in 2020. This law requires local author­i­ties to offer cit­i­zens solu­tions for recov­er­ing organ­ic waste. These solu­tions can­not be stan­dard­ised, because no two geo­graph­ic areas are alike. «That’s where research can come in. The ide­al solu­tion doesn’t exist for every­one. Let’s take a look at two extreme examples.

In the first, the respon­si­bil­i­ty for recy­cling waste is del­e­gat­ed to cit­i­zens, who are giv­en indi­vid­ual com­posters. In the sec­ond, the pub­lic is asked to sort their rub­bish and the waste is col­lect­ed, trans­port­ed and recy­cled in an indus­tri­al plant. Nei­ther of these sce­nar­ios offers any con­vinc­ing advan­tages from an envi­ron­men­tal, eco­nom­ic or social point of view. In the first case, the prob­lem is not one of cost or trans­port, but one of own­er­ship by the cit­i­zen and then it has to be done prop­er­ly. Oth­er­wise, it is a prod­uct that can­not be put to good use and which, if bad­ly pre­pared, can even have harm­ful effects on the envi­ron­ment and on human beings. In the sec­ond case, there is cer­tain­ly an eco­nom­ic cost, that of trans­port, but the recov­ery is opti­mal in indus­tri­al units, either by pro­duc­ing bio­gas or labelled com­posts, for exam­ple», he explains. These two sce­nar­ios show that ten­sions can arise between eco­nom­ic, envi­ron­men­tal and social issues. Ten­sions that local author­i­ties find them­selves at a loss to resolve.

Hence the idea of the project Inte­grat­ing Eco­nom­ic, Envi­ron­men­tal and Social Dimen­sions (IDEES) in a cir­cu­lar econ­o­my approach, launched in ear­ly 2023 and co-financed by the Hauts-de- France Region, as part of the «cir­cu­lar econ­o­my and new devel­op­ment mod­el» pro­gramme, and UTC. «The aim is to devel­op a deci­sion-mak­ing tool by study­ing the var­i­ous pos­si­ble sce­nar­ios in order to pro­vide deci­sion-mak­ers with objec­tive infor­ma­tion, bear­ing in mind that there may be hybrid sce­nar­ios between the two extreme sce­nar­ios men­tioned. In rur­al areas, for exam­ple, indi­vid­ual com­posters are more appro­pri­ate and peo­ple are more inclined to use them, where­as in more dense­ly pop­u­lat­ed areas the choice of col­lec­tion and recov­ery in indus­tri­al units would be more appro­pri­ate. Recy­cling plants man­aged local­ly in a spir­it of the cir­cu­lar econ­o­my», con­cludes Olivi­er Schoefs.

Le magazine

Avril 2024 - N°62

Faire face aux enjeux environnementaux

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