‘Économie Circulaire’ – Design Out Waste

In this interview series the Dutch Embassies across Europe shine their light on the local circular economy, the world of laws, regulations, opportunities and challenges for Dutch entrepreneurs that have the desire to expand their business abroad. The Dutch Embassy plays a key role in the international transition and the local advisors share their personal opinion and ideas with the Circular Stories network. This episode: An elaborated interview with Leontine Schijf; senior advisor circular economy at the Dutch Embassy in Paris.

Coming up in this interview

  • Circularity is ‘hip and happening’ in France

  • The difference in each country and how France and the Netherlands work together in the circular transition

  • Opportunities for Dutch innovations and entrepreneurs

  • The ‘European Plastics Pact’

  • Opportunities arise in plastic recycling, green fashion and the biking sector plus around the Olympic Games!

  • How the Dutch Embassy can help entrepreneurs expand and grow

  • Expert tips from Leontine Schijf from the Dutch Embassy

Circularity is hip and happening in France

“The circular economy is becoming more and more popular in France. A couple years ago, only NGOs spoke about it. Now, in the hip arrondissements of Paris you will find a variety of zero-waste shops, sustainable fashion boutiques and coffee-bars that only fill your reusable cups. Moreover, the French government is investing increasingly in circular projects and creates new laws to improve the reuse and recycling of materials. Still, there is not a lot of circular expertise around, and that is where the Netherlands has an edge. This gap creates many opportunities to export products or the right knowledge and opening  to start innovation projects together!”

‘Économie circulaire’ vs. ‘circulaire economie’ 

What is the difference in circular entrepreneurship in France and The Netherlands? The French and the Dutch perspectives are slightly different. 

“In my view, to achieve the circular economy we need to design out waste. For example, using the R-ladder. It shows the hierarchy of actions to achieve a circular economy.  We must rethink, reduce, reuse, repair, refurbish, remanufacture, repurpose… and then recycle. Recycling comes at a point where the circular economy already failed, because we have produced waste. Recycling should be a last resort. In France however, many still associate the circular economy with recycling. The French recycling sector is not as developed as ours yet, so many investments are still needed to create more recycling capacity. Last week the French government pledged 500 million euros in investments in the circular economy, mostly to update their recycling capacity, as part of their post-COVID recovery plan. I hope the discussion on circularity will expand more into higher steps on the R-ladder, because that is where we can make a real positive impact on our environment.”

“The Netherlands embraces the whole R-ladder. Of course we also care about recycling, but recycling wouldn’t be necessary if there is no waste to recycle! Starting in the design stage, companies are creating products that do not end up as trash (for example, a shampoo bar without packaging). We focus on extending the lifecycle of products (by repairing more) and designing new production methods (such as modular building), business models (for example renting out washing machines instead of selling them) and ways of consumption (think: buying groceries in refillable glass jars instead of single-use packaging) to create a circular economy. But since we are an open economy, we cannot achieve circularity alone. Therefore, the New Circular Economy Plan of the European Union is very promising, because our countries all agreed to work together on a wide range of circular targets, not just recycling!”

“My own definition of the circular economy is very ambitious, because I envision a world where waste is designed out of our economic system. The Netherlands is taking a pragmatic and holistic approach to the circular economy, but in France it is often narrowed down to recycling.”

“That being said, my perception of the circular economy in France is slowly changing. I have been doing this job for one year now and I have been finding hidden circular gems all over the country. There are French companies who do more than just recycle. A big inspiration is the fashion industry. Paris is of course the capital of fashion and many fashion houses are trying to create circular supply chains. It is not easy, but the French brand 1083 shows that it is possible. Their jeans infinis (infinite jeans) are made from recycled materials, and can be recycled at the end of life. Customers pay a deposit per jeans, that they get back when they have out-worn them, so that 1083 can take charge of either the resale or recycling. And we see that in the Netherlands too. Also in the denim sector because it is a very innovative and modern part of the fashion industry. Kings of Indigo and Mud Jeans are prime examples of Dutch circular inventiveness. Their jeans are made with the highest quality materials, from textile to buttons, and sold through subscription models and resale platforms, so that they can be as circular as possible.”

There are many more examples. Leontine Schijf has written a blog series about each French metropolitan region that entrepreneurs should definitely use for more in depth understanding of the local culture. 

Opportunities for Dutch innovations

100% Plastic recycling 

“Plastic is a hot topic. In March 2020 we launched the European Plastics Pact, I say ‘we’ because it was an initiative from the French and Dutch government. After many meetings between our ministries, companies, NGOs and associations, we agreed on a set of ambitious targets for plastics recycling and rethinking packaging; now it is up to the companies to implement them! In 2025 100% of plastic waste in France should be recycled. That is very soon. France is interested in Dutch innovations, such as chemical recycling, to meet these goals.

Also, France adopted several laws to phase out single-use plastics between now and 2040, and it will be prohibited to destroy unsold stock. An entrepreneur should create a business case wherein these things are taken into account, e.g. by not making a big investment in plastic packaging or overstocking up on product.

But it is not just the government who is pushing plastics out, the French citizens are also choosing for other solutions. Take for example the horrible habit of drinking from single-use plastic water bottles, which often end up in nature or the ocean. Luckily, I spotted the hip reusable Dutch Dopper bottles in my local store and the city of Paris has an amazing coverage of water fountains where you can fill your water bottle. Some water fountains even have sparkling water! It’s so impressive that Zac Efron even made a documentary about it that is on Netflix (‘Down to Earth’, episode 2, France). I’m happy to see that sustainability is becoming cool.”

Green Fashion

“As I mentioned, a sector with many opportunities is the fashion sector, which is still far from sustainable. France hosts many headquarters of famous fashion brands, like Chanel and Dior. This is where decisions are made. If you want your circular textile innovation to be used in their clothing, you will need to convince their team here. Moreover, last year President Macron asked fashion group Kering to set up a collaborative approach for sustainability: the Fashion Pact. So the momentum is there, the French want to go green but don’t always know how, which creates the perfect opportunity for Dutch circular businesses to step in!

That is why I am working a lot on connecting the French and Dutch fashion sectors. Being the linking pin, that is my job. I organise conferences and networking events and I focus on ‘matchmaking’, i.e. finding the right business partners for Dutch entrepreneurs so they can expand into France. 

If you are an entrepreneur with a sustainable fashion solution, the following two events are important for you. On 18-19 november, we organise an innovation mission during which we will (digitally) visit Paris and Lille to connect you to the most important people in the business. During plenary presentations we introduce you to fashion houses, textile recycling firms, retailers, etc., and you introduce yourself to them. Next, we can arrange one-on-one meetings with them to expand your professional network in France and talk business! Of course a Dutch business can expand into France on their own, but it’s just easier to get your foot in the door with the embassy’s support.

Moreover, on the 20th of November we organise our biggest annual conference: the Erasmus-Descartes Conference. The goal is to connect French and Dutch stakeholders and create innovation collaboration. For example, I cannot yet say who but a Dutch and French university will be signing a partnership agreement to collaborate on sustainable textile research. Because this year’s theme is ‘sustainable fashion, sustainable materials’. The day will be filled with panels about sustainable textile development, recycling, circular jeans and international collaboration. Half of the speakers and audience come from the Netherlands, half from France. And everyone can even speak their own language, because we provide real-time translation. (Stay tuned for the registration link!)”

Know how to play the games: Olympic Games 2024

Look ahead and identify opportunities and challenges to come. In 2024 Paris will host the most sustainable Olympic Games ever! This creates huge momentum for Dutch circular businesses to expand into France. Where do the athletes train, compete and sleep? Where does their staff work? Where do all the tourists stay? Instead of building everything new, Paris is choosing to sustainably renovate the north of the city and convert existing structures into Olympic worthy sports locations. Moreover, they need to be multifunctional and leave a legacy, so that after the Games are over, the buildings can be converted from hotels to social housing, from sports arenas for athletes to gyms for local kids.

At the embassy, we organised business meetings between the French Olympic Games committee and many Dutch architects and building companies. We serve as a linking pin. And with success! The Olympic Aquatic center will be designed by the Dutch architects at VenhoevenCS, together with their French partners at Ateliers 2/3/4. Their design is not just beautiful, but also adheres to strict sustainability rules and circular use. It will be made from wood and be covered in solar panels. And after serving as competition location for water polo, diving and synchronized swimming during the Olympic Games in 2024, it will be transformed to a boccia-stadium during the Paralympic Games, and finally into a sports and events location for the local population.”

La relance verte; the green recovery for the biking industry

“In light of COVID-19, the French government is committing to la relance verte, the green recovery. Out of the 100 billion euros in the recovery plan, about 30 billion will be spent on the ecological transition. Sustainable infrastructure, transport and housing are especially important. In Paris, I already see so many extra bicycle roads that were built after lockdown, because people are avoiding the busy metro. Perfect timing for bike companies to expand into France, right? Like the Dutch company Swapfiets, who just opened their first French boutique in Paris last week! They offer circular bikes on a subscription basis. For a fixed price, you get a Swapfiets bike that always works, but you don’t own it. If it breaks, your bike is ‘swapped’, it gets repaired or you get a new one. Because in a circular world, we don’t pay to be the ‘owner’ of a product, we pay to use a product. Then, companies will make stuff that lasts, instead of making flimsy products that break – so you buy a new one… 

Circular Quote of the Day

Money is not the only variable to be maximized

Leontine Schijf

My Dream Job at the Embassy

“I studied (linear) economics; back in these days circular economy was not a topic. Analyzing economic issues with the purpose to optimize profits and minimize costs, I quickly realized this was not my calling. During a course on public economics, I realised  that money is not the only variable to be maximised. I could also use my skills to optimise social wellbeing and solve environmental issues. So I started my career with the government traineeship at the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy.” 

“After two years of working on various projects, from healthcare innovation to robotics, my dream job opened up at the Embassy in Paris as Circular Economy Advisor. As a linking pin, I strive to make an impact to accelerate the transition to the circular economy in France and the Netherlands. I actively transfer knowledge, create a wide network and connect the stakeholders involved. My ultimate goal? To see circular solutions all around me, regardless of whether I am in Paris or Amsterdam.”

“I have been doing this job for one year now and am most proud when I get to bring together circular minds from France and the Netherlands and see them collaborating together. For example, I organised a seminar last year on the opportunities in the French fashion sector. We travelled with five French speakers together to Utrecht to explain the developments in textile innovation, retail and recycling and the room was buzzing with over 60 Dutch participants interested to meet them! The mutual interest was overwhelming. That shows me that my job matters. I am like a coach on the sideline, trying to create the best team to accelerate the circular economy, and my players come from France and the Netherlands.”

Leontine’s golden tips:

“C’est le ton qui fait la musique”

“Make it easy for the French to understand you, so translate your communication material to French, and for you to understand them, so educate yourself about the local market opportunities! And know you’re not alone, you can always ask me for help or extra information via email.”

Network & Events

“When entrepreneurs want to do circular business in France, they should certainly ask which relevant events are coming up. In France, face-to-face (or online during COVID-times) meetings are important to build trust. Your network is vital in setting up a successful project or business. The embassy has a big network to introduce you to. We have our main office in Paris and two Netherlands Business Support Offices (NBSO) in Nantes and Lyon – because France is larger than Paris alone. Different regions have different needs.”

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Ellekari & Mariëlle
Founders of Circular Stories

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