Circular economy series #3: Brittany


Welcome back to our weekly series on circular economy in the French regions. This blog is written by the Embassy of the Netherlands in Paris and explains the opportunities for Dutch organisations in France in the field of circular economy!

Last week you read all about Normandy. This week, we travel to the next region: Brittany (Bretagne in French), known for its beaches, islands and cultural heritage. But what about the regional circular economy? This blog will bring you up to speed.

The main takeaways are: Brittany has many innovative examples of circular businesses (from oysters to yachts), focus on renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, food waste (prevention) and strong stakeholder engagement.


Brittany in numbers

  • 3.3 million inhabitants (5% of the French population)
  • 27,208 km2
    • of which 2700 km coastline
  • 4.2% of the French GDP
  • 12.6 million tonnes of waste (in 2016) of which:
    • 1.76 million tonnes of household waste;
    • 1.96 million tonnes of waste from economic activities;
    • 8.9 million tonnes of waste from construction and public works.

Key economic sectors

* Renewable marine energy is a priority for Brittany. Currently, the region imports over 80% of the energy they consume. Hence, their energy dependence is huge. To become greener and less dependent of imports, the region wants to use its coastal position to its advantage by prioritizing Renewable Marine Energy. What does this entail? Power from wind (offshore wind energy), sea currents (tidal energy), wave power, ocean temperatures (thermal energy) and fresh- and seawater interaction (osmotic energy). These technologies have different levels of maturity; wind energy being the most developed. Thus, pilot and prototypes are being developed with the objective to start establishing industrial sectors in 2020. Brittany’s large coastline provides a lot of maritime potential to develop and deploy different technologies and the different ports are looking to take a central role to realize new projects.

Bretagne EMR
A map of Renewable Marine Energy projects in the region

The (regional) circular economy

Brittany has several ambitious goals for a more sustainable future, including:

  • In 2020: 100% water sources of ‘good quality’
  • In 2030: no more waste landfilled
  • In 2040: a zero-waste society

In order to attain these and make the Brittany Region a responsible and exemplary player in the circular economy, the region aims to develop and optimize cooperation between all the Breton territories. The focus lies on:

  • Favor the use of local materials, in particular by transforming certain deposits of waste to give them a second life;
  • Support economic actors towards more moderate and resource-saving production methods (energy, water, raw materials, packaging);
  • Develop and participate in the emergence of the functionality/sharing economy to move towards the green economy (i.e. products as a service);
  • Raise awareness and support all economic players and territories in the transition to a new economy (information, training, R&DI, etc.).

Who drive the sustainability agenda in Brittany?

Inspired by the COP climate meetings, Brittany set up its own Breizh COP. The ambition is to grasp and accelerate several transitions in Brittany: ecological, climate, economic, societal and methodological. In short, the Breizh COP gathers all important stakeholders to set goals how to sustainably develop the region. It is an open dialogue with all Bretons to establish measurable objectives from now until 2040. Currently, there are 5863 commitments! Some examples:

  • Supermarkets fight against food waste. In France, it is illegal to throw away unsold food products. Therefore, partnerships arise to find other destinations for unsold food. For example in Montauban de Bretagne, the local Intermarché gives away 39 tonnes to associations (a different one every day), equivalent to 78,000 meals and with the app Too Good to Go, 400 boxes of food are saved from the bin.
  • Public stakeholders are committing to reducing their energy consumption. Like the municipality of the island Ile de Sein, who sets the goal of 100% renewable energy in 2030. They push for more solar panels, even on their municipal heritage and public buildings. 1000m² of panels are already in place! And the city is committed to enlarge the effort, even considering placing panels on the local church and city hall.

Why is this important? With the Breizh COP, Brittany is the first of the 13 French regions to have embarked on an approach which goes beyond the legislative framework for sustainable development and mobilizes such a wide range of civil society and citizens.

Examples of circular economy in Brittany

Yachts and pleasure boats

France is one of only four countries in the world who has organized demolition and recycling of yachts and other pleasure boats. With the support of the Federation of Nautical Industries (FIN), the dismantling of the boats is now clearly a best-practice example on a European scale!

Yachts and pleasure boats are mostly made from composite material. The recovery and re-use of the composite is the central element in the deconstruction and recycling process. Composite waste can be used for energy recovery in the form of solid recovery fuel, which is used to power cement plants. The waste can also be recycled and used as recycled raw material for the manufacture of new products. In Brittany, the eco-organisation APER is the leading organization in this sector.

Oysters and other shells

Bretons love to eat oysters, but what to do with the shells? The company Usine de Kervellerin has developed circular products out of oyster shells, used as additives in paint and plastics. For paint, the oyster shell derivative is called Ostrécal, and paint manufacturers use it to reduce additives from crude oil whilst, at the same time, maintaining quality. Ostrécal is also popular in the plastics market and, notably, is now an integral part of a biodegradable fibre which is used in the field of 3D printing. This fibre is marketed by Novania under the name Istroflex and is the result of a collaboration with the ComposiTIC research centre from the University of South Brittany in Lorient.

Another company, Friendly Frenchy, also valorizes sea shells that are normally wasted (because that would be a waste!). Based in Auray, Brittany, the company manufactures frames for glasses out of shells. Saint Jacques, mussels and oysters from the beach can now be worn at the beach, as sunglasses!

Bretagne collection-plage
From shells to sunglasses, by Friendly Frenchy

Upcycling yesterday’s news

Yesterday’s news is quickly outdated. Therefore, huge amounts of paper end up in the trash every day. Luckily, newspapers can be effectively recycled into a higher quality product, that is what is called ‘upcycling’. In Brittany, the company Cellaouate collects old newspapers for their fibres: cellulose wadding. The fibre from the paper is defibrated and additives are incorporated to give it a high fire resistance. Ultimately, this forms a high-quality type of insulation material, which protects homes from temperatures, noise and various risks, while also being environmentally friendly.

Restaurant waste

Brittany is a pilot region for the “Less waste at the restaurant” experiment launched back in 2014. On June 5, 2018, an analysis of the experiment shows the interesting results made by volunteer Breton restaurateurs in the departments of Ille-et-Vilaine and Morbihan. The project aimed to overcome the great ignorance of restaurateurs on the cost of food waste through the analysis of food waste produced in the restaurant’s process, from cooking to service. This is what they found (based on answers from 215 respondents):

  • 125 g wasted per meal / person, i.e. 10% of the purchase price of raw materials;
  • 3 out of 5 people don’t finish their plates;
  • 93% would like the option to choose their portion size;
  • 80% of people would like to leave with a free box containing the remains of their dish.
  • Origin of food waste:
    • 46% in preparation;
    • 26% in return for the plate;
    • 22% at the end of service.

The cost of food waste differs depending on whether it is an assembly kitchen or homemade kitchen (higher cost). It can be very high on certain products. For example, the estimated loss of fish is € 165 (on the purchase of 10 kg of sea bass at € 30 per kilo). This pilot experience in Brittany will soon be extended to all of France.

The startup scene

Small startups often have much larger circular ambitions than established companies. As the new report from the University of Utrecht, ING and the Amsterdam Economic Board concludes: startups accelerate the circular economy transition! Moreover, research into the business models of 147 circular startups in the Netherlands show that, compared to large established firms, circular start-ups develop circularity strategies higher in the waste management hierarchy and engage in circular innovations that are often overlooked.

So let’s take a look of some good, circular examples from Brittany:

  • Sustainable shrimps by Agriloops (Rennes): with the financial support of the EU programme Climate-KIC, this startup set up a circular shrimp business! Their unique farms use aquaponics, a technique to produce shrimps and vegetables at the same time while ‘looping’ the water supply between the two. This saves 90% of water and a lot of fertilizer. The really unique aspect? Agriloops uses salt water!
  • Circular cigarettes by MéGo (Bourg-Blanc): recycling of cigarettes is important for two reasons. First of all, it avoids harmful effects to nature, because one cigarette filter is so full of chemicals that it can contaminate over 500 liters of water! Secondly, the waste isn’t wasted, but turned into a new material.
  • Regenerating forests with EcoTree (expanding from Bretagne all the way to Denmark!): planting trees is good for the environment due to their CO2-absorbing powers, but it’s also a hassle. EcoTree plants and maintains tree for their customers as a sustainable investment. During the trees lifecycle, the tree absorbs CO2 and contributes to biodiversity. When it’s time to cut the tree, the customer receives the revenue generated from the final cut. This startups’ success has been made possible by French Tech Brest, a local accelerator programme for startups.

Collaboration opportunities in Brittany for Dutch stakeholders

Knowing the developments towards a circular economy in Brittany, the question arises: how can Dutch stakeholders collaborate to accelerate this transition in the region? In summary, the main takeaways are:

  • Focus on renewable energy, by using the coast as an advantage, and biogas, a very well developed and a growing market in Brittany;
  • Sustainable agriculture and food waste (prevention) are priorities, but more expertise is needed;
  • Do not forget about stakeholder engagement when you want to collaborate in Brittany, i.e. try to connect to Breizh COP to showcase best practices and expand your (sustainable) network;
  • ADEME, Region Bretagne, and AILE, are the relevant local authorities and associations for sustainable development and circular economy.

In order to move from knowledge to action, the Netherlands Enterprise Agency ( and the Embassy of the Netherlands in France are there for you. Did you know the Embassy has a network through all of France? Our representatives are not only located in Paris, but we also have two regional offices in Nantes and Lyon. Moreover, a large network of honorary consuls are present, from Marseille to Lille. All of us are available to Dutch organisations who have questions about doing business or research in France. So do not hesitate to contact us.