Les Alchimistes pilot project

Sector: Community composting and collection projects
Equipment: A900 Rocket Composter

The backstory

An increasing number of countries and communities across the globe are looking for ways to improve their sustainability and reduce their carbon impact on the planet. Many are adopting sustainable development practices, implementing programmes that care for our soils, provide food security, and nurture the earth and its resources.

And one country which is leading the way when it comes to food waste is France.

In fact, Les Alchimistes – social enterprise and one of our fantastic distributors – is led by two visionaries, Kenzo and Alex, who are both incredibly passionate about harnessing green and sustainable waste management strategies, especially when it comes to commercial-scale food waste.

In 2017, the organisation wanted to make its sustainable vision come to life by piloting a food waste composting project. The underlying aim of the mission was to demonstrate how commercial food waste could easily be collected and processed locally to create compost – without the need for large-scale centralised infrastructure.

The challenge

Paris has some areas of high unemployment rate and a dense city centre population, as well as being a big pollution producer – and the firm believed that decentralised composting would be the key to helping to bring everything under one great social, environmental project.

New legislation introduced within the country in 2010 – Grenelle 2 – stipulated that the recycling of organic waste would be mandatory for all businesses which produce at least 10 tonnes of food waste per year. And Les Alchimistes knew that decentralised composting could provide the answer.

However sadly, decentralised composting in France had been tarred with an unfavourable brush in the earlier years – due to organisations collecting, but improperly treating waste, and causing vermin and odour problems. This bad experience – driven by lack of knowledge and experience – therefore led to local governments being unwilling to sponsor any similar projects now, instead favouring out-of-town centralised, but incredibly polluting, processing.

The pair at Les Alchimistes wanted to prove to the French government that this wasn’t how local composting projects should – and would – turn out if managed properly, and therefore applied for the funding to launch a pilot project in city-centre Paris.

However, after securing a location – in a reclaimed hospital building 3km south of the Eiffel Tower – and being given the chance to prove such a model can be financially sustainable and create employment, the firm needed a hand in choosing and implementing the right solution.

But there was lots of pressure to get it right, as, if the pilot were to be successful – and also validated and approved by governmental and farming bodies – then Les Alchimistes would receive the green light to officially expand their project, not only into other areas of the city but the country.

The solution

When Les Alchimistes came to us with their ‘urban farming’ vision, we were immediately excited – decentralised composting is where our passion lies!

We recommended our A900 Rocket Composter for the pilot – able to process up to 215 lites of food waste per day and generate a nutrient-rich compost resource in just 14 days.

After months of effective trials, the organisation was given the official seal of approval – in the form of a ‘positive release’ for the sale of its compost – thus allowing Les Alchimistes to expand its project further into Paris. The Mayor of Paris was so impressed with the results that he became a sponsor and driver for the project expansion.

The team therefore bought more A900 Rockets for wider city-centre applications – this time occupying disused underground car parks and railway arches as composting hubs. And they now have multiple sites, processing the residual biowastes from supermarkets, restaurants, and hotels from across the French capital.

One of the most appealing advantages of the new collection service – for food-producing businesses – is that waste is dealt with locally and more sustainably, and this is due to the entire collection operation being ‘pedal-powered.’ This sees large trolley-like containers – filled with food waste collection bins – attached to the bicycles, which employees use to traverse the congested Parisian streets. Food waste is collected in the bins and it’s then on to the next venue for another pick-up.

Each cargo-cycle can transport up to 200kg of organic waste at a time – making it a more sustainable alternative to conventional vehicles. On a simple level, this saves businesses’ waste disposal costs, but it has a much greater advantage at its core – ultimately, it helps to save the environment. Greater amounts of food waste are diverted away from landfill – using a more environmentally-friendly collection method than diesel-powered garbage trucks – which helps more companies do the ‘right thing’ locally and in a more sustainable manner.

Decentralised composting hubs opened not only in Paris, but throughout the rest of the country in Lyon, Toulouse, Marseille, Réunion and most Toulon. In many instances, the resulting compost is fed back into the community and sold by city-centre grocery stores and farmers – creating the ultimate circular approach.

The ‘urban agriculture’ movement was publicly brought to life to create a chain of sustainable food waste management projects, but the Les Alchimistes team and Tidy Planet didn’t stop there. This time, the decentralised project would be bigger, and located in the middle of Paris’s River Seine – read more about how the story unfolded…