Sorting biowaste at source: why is your company concerned?

From 1 January 2024, all biowaste produced in France must be sorted at source so that it can be recycled. Let’s take a look at the implications of this new obligation, which applies to households as well as to all businesses, whatever their sector of activity and whatever volumes of biowaste they produce.

Biowaste, the waste that isn’t waste at all!

Since August 2021, the French Environment Code has defined biowaste as “biodegradable non-hazardous garden or park waste, food or kitchen waste from households, offices, restaurants, wholesalers, canteens, caterers or retail outlets, as well as comparable waste from food processing plants” [art L. 541-1-1].
In other words, bio-waste encompasses all products and materials of organic origin, whether or not they result from a transformation process. This includes everything from apple cores to out-of-date products from the food industry, as well as used vegetable oils and lawn cuttings. As diverse as they are, these materials have one essential thing in common: they can be recovered, either in the form of fertiliser (composting) or biogas (methanisation) and, as part of a circular economy, can be transformed from “waste to be disposed of” into a resource.
But, just as was the case for glass and paper recycling, the recovery of bio-waste requires the setting up of a complete process to collect and process the products, not forgetting the organisation of their downstream distribution. The existence of a structured process is a prerequisite for breaking with the old practices that have been in place for decades – i.e. eliminating bio-waste by incineration or landfill. These two processes are polluting, emit greenhouse gases, consume energy and space and, in addition to their heavy environmental impact, are financially costly for local authorities and the general public.

January 1, 2024: compulsory sorting at source for everyone

A recycling/recovery sector can only function sustainably if it has a sufficient and regular supply of raw materials upstream, in this case bio-waste. With 28.4 million tonnes of bio-waste produced every year (source: Ademe), the supply is not about to run out! But we still need to mobilise it, even though it is extremely widespread, since all organisations and individuals generate bio-waste. That’s what’s at stake with source separation and the regulations designed to make it more widespread.

>> The first provisions on the obligation to sort at source, stemming from the Grenelle 2 law (2010) and the energy transition law for green growth (2015), came into force in 2016 and then only concerned organisations, businesses and local authorities producing more than 10 tonnes of biowaste per year.

>> On 1 January 2023, the AGEC law (anti-waste law for a circular economy) of 2020 extended this obligation to organisations and professionals producing more than 5 tonnes of bio-waste per year.

>> On 1 January 2024, all households and organisations will be required to sort their biowaste at source, starting with the first kilo of biowaste.

Thanks to the fact that these measures are spread out over time, we can consider that the largest producers have already put in place the necessary systems to ensure that their organic waste is sorted at source with a view to recovery. This is particularly the case for :

  • the agri-food industry, where plants are encouraged to invest in their own energy recovery facilities where volumes warrant;
  • supermarkets, which are required by the anti-waste law to reduce their volumes of bio-waste and donate unsold and surplus produce to food aid associations, bearing in mind that distributors are now prohibited from making food that is still edible unfit for consumption;
  • local and regional authorities, which are in the front line as direct and indirect producers of green waste and food waste, and above all because it is up to them to offer households solutions for sorting and collecting biowaste throughout their territory.

The next stage, that of 1 January 2024, represents a challenge because it implies, on the one hand, the effective deployment of sorting and collection resources commensurate with the volumes to be processed and, at the same time, just as essential, a change in behaviour on the part of ‘small’ producers. When you consider that, despite incentives and communication campaigns, bio-waste still accounts for 38% of household waste (source: Ademe), you realise that the target of 100% sorting at source will not be achieved overnight.

Just one more bin?

What will happen in practice in your company on 1 January 2024 if you are one of the ‘small producers’ of biowaste who have to sort it at source?

First of all, you should know that the local authority where you live is not obliged to provide you with a solution. It is obliged to do so for households, and many of them have anticipated this for a long time, typically by distributing individual composters or installing voluntary drop-off points. However, some local authorities have extended the scheme to businesses and professionals, subject to volume requirements. Even before finding out whether your business is eligible for the sorting facilities and collection services set up by the authority responsible for waste management in your area (municipality or inter-municipal association), make the effort to identify, qualify and quantify your bio-waste.

If there is no public scheme, it is up to you to seek out a solution from a company specialising in waste collection and/or recovery that is suited to the types and volumes of bio-waste you produce. In all cases, this solution will take the form of dedicated organic waste bins in your premises, offices, workshops and other facilities, usually provided by the chosen service provider. But be careful! This only makes sense if the containers are actually used, which is why it is so important to make ALL your employees aware of the importance of systematically sorting bio-waste, even if in your case this is limited to leftovers from lunches eaten on the premises and tea bags… Knowing that setting up a separate bio-waste collection system costs your company money (on average €780 per tonne according to Ademe, but €1210/tonne for small producers), you might as well do things properly and learn to put only what can be recycled in the dedicated bins!

The quality of sorting at source determines the subsequent operations carried out by your service provider or local authority. In particular, it determines the actual volumes of bio-waste to be collected in each area and, consequently, the frequency of collections and the organisation of the service providers’ rounds. At Nomadia, we’re well placed to know: these companies rely on our software solutions to rationalise and optimise their collection rounds. In doing so, they reduce the number of kilometres travelled, the number of trucks assigned to the rounds and the resulting CO2 emissions, all of which contribute to the economic and environmental viability of the bio-waste treatment and recovery sector.

>> You too can make a contribution by making the sorting of your bio-waste a priority in your CSR programme at the end of 2023. By launching your project now, as a small producer, there’s every chance that you’ll be ready on 1 January 2024!