Circular Economy series #5: Hauts-de-France

CE5This week we stay close to home! Hint: it’s less than 3 hours by car from Rotterdam. Which region is that? Hauts-de-France, of course! Many Dutch companies already find their way to this region, but is it all just due to proximity? Not at all, and in this blog you will find out what kind of (circular) opportunities make the region attractive to Dutch organisations.

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.


In short: Hauts-de-France is a popular destination for Dutch business and other organisations. The proximity to the Netherlands makes it’s a good starting ground for many firms trying out the French market. The region is packed with circular and bio-economy clusters, research institutes and recycling firms. There are many examples of collaboration with the support of EU-funding. Lille is its capital, where the focus lies on (sustainable) fashion and textiles.

Hauts-de-France in numbers

  • 6 million inhabitants
  • 31 813 km² surface area
  • €153 billion euros GDP
  • 30 million tonnes of waste per year
    • 85% from professional activity
    • 15% from households

Key economic sectors

  • Textiles and industrial fabric (over 20% of employment)
  • Bioeconomy
  • Chemicals and pharmaceuticals
  • Metallurgy and steel

Research and innovation focus

  • Major research institutions who are based in the region include:
    • CNRS, the national center for scientific research;
    • INRAE Lille, regional office of the national institute for agricultural research;
    • IFREMER, the national institute for research into sea resources;
    • Institut Pasteur de Lille, a foundation for public health
  • Competitiveness clusters*:

Regional strategy and priorities

The current economic model is based on the ‘produce, use and throw away’ pattern. This consumption model, paired with a growing world population, generates tension on raw materials and natural resources. The problem is that the amount of resources we extract is exceeding the limits of the planet’s ecosystems.

But luckily we are all switching to the circular economy! This economic model’s objective is to increase the efficiency of raw material use, to maintain the added value of products as long as possible and therefore to reduce the carbon intensity of our society.

The French definition focuses on three pillars to transition in to the circular economy:

  1. Economic stakeholders: will have to put a sustainable and circular offer on the market (eco-designed products, rental or subscription models, sustainable materials, etc.);
  2. Consumers: hold responsibility over their demand and use of products and services (responsible demand, collaborative use, repair and re-use of products, etc.);
  3. Industrial parties: need to create a waste management system that favors re-use, downcycling and upcycling of resources.

Hauts-de-France has a strategic position between Paris and Belgium, with easy access to the Netherlands too. Taking advantage of the new, circular model is necessary, because the region is marked by economic and social difficulties. Hauts-de-France is traditionally an industrial region, and was hit by  deindustrialization. Sustainable development of low growth areas should generate new activity.

Specifically, the area around Lille is trying to re-establish their traditional textiles industry. Let’s dive into that development:

Circular textiles

Traditionally, the metropolis of Lille was a hub of textile manufacturing in the 19th century. With deindustrialization in the 20th century, many factories closed and left parts of the city deserted. But nowadays, the region is now mixing old tradition with new circular ambition!

In Roubaix, we find the engineering school and research institute ENSAIT (Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts et Industries Textiles). ENSAIT is specialized in scientific research in textiles. When we talk about textiles we often think of selling clothes and fashion, while the textile and clothing industry encompasses a wide scope of practices: spinning, weaving, knitting, non-woven textile production, imprinting, dyeing… And every part of the value chain will need to become more sustainable and circular. So where do most of its students go after their studies at ENSAIT? Decathlon!

Decathlon, the sporting goods retailer and producer, opened its first store in 1976 near Lille. Sustainability and innovation in the design of its products are important priorities. They have their own brands (20 in total), designed and created by a large team of designers, at several R&D facilities in France. Decathlon has a strong focus on eco-design: they are tagging their products with RFID tags to track their life cycle, use recycled polyester (100% in 2021), teach customers how to maintain their sporting equipment, and more. With sustainability at its core, Decathlon is attracting a lot of talent in this field, further enhancing the region’s expertise in sustainable textile, design and product development.

And in Tourcoing, we find the European Centre for Innovative Textiles (CETI). The CETI is an industrial sight for (sustainable) textile research and production. Their work reflects the commitment of the region to boost the textile industry of the future. They have a large collection of state-of-the-art industrial machines that businesses and researchers can come and use to develop new sustainable production of textiles. For example, one of their machines can recycle short fibres and thereby upcycling discarded fabric into yarn. This technique is quite unique. It provides a second life to discarded clothes (that are normally landfilled or downcycled), removes a dye step, produces in a short circuit and maximizes the amount of recycled fibres in the final product!

Finally, the fashion group Mulliez (owner of brands such as Pimkie, Jules and Brice) is looking to bring back manufacturing to the region. At the end of the year, the group envisions setting up a robotized factory for t-shirts production close to Lille. By manufacturing locally, the environmental footprint of production can be lowered in several ways. Firstly, being close to the customers will reduce transportation. Secondly, proximity to the market will also enable the brands to adjust production quickly, thereby preventing overproduction of undesirable stock.

The European Centre for Textile Innovation in Tourcoing

Competitiveness clusters: the drivers of innovation

* Competitiveness clusters, pôles de competivité, are the French version of PPPs (public-private partnerships). With government support, companies and research institutes come together around a shared challenge to innovate and develop a solution. Clusters often collaborate internationally, for example through the European innovation programmes Horizon 2020/Europe and Interreg.


In Hauts-de-France, the cluster TEAM2 (Technologies de l’Environnement Appliquées aux Matières et Matériaux) is all about the circular economy. Their work focuses on five pillars :

  1. Strategic and rare metals
  2. Minerals for the construction sector
  3. Organic waste (including composites, mixed plastics and textiles)
  4. Equipment manufacturing and recycling
  5. Industrial and territorial ecology

The cluster was founded here because of the strong concentration of recycling firms (approximately 200 firms) in Hauts-de-France. In 2018, during the Pollutec fair, this sector founded the ‘Club for Recyclers’ for 20 local companies (from big groups to startups) along the recycling value chain. Their mission? Developing an industrial sector ready for the circular economy and supporting innovation in recycling, collectively. The Club is managed by the TEAM2 cluster.

Moreover, TEAM2 partakes in several succesful collaborations with Dutch stakeholders! There are three Interreg projects with a French-Dutch partnership:

  1. PlastiCity
    1. Goal: increase plastic recycling rates in urban environments.
    2. How? By developing technical strategies for (reverse) logistics and reprocessing, inducing behavioural change and demonstrating this in case study cities (such as The Hague and Douai (FR)).
    3. When? 2019 – 2022
    4. Partners from France : TEAM2, Theys Recyclage, WeLOOP, Association pour la Recherche et le Développement des Méthodes et Processus Industriels.
    5. Partners from the Netherlands: Gemeente Den Haag, Metabolic.
    6. Who else? Universiteit Gent, Van Werven België, DPL Group Plastic Recycling, GRCT, University of Portsmouth, GRCT.
    1. Goal: increase sediment reuse for erosion and flood protection
    2. How? By providing authorities, ports, waterway managers and erosion experts with new large scale solutions for sediment reuse in NWE ports, waterways and coastlines.
    3. When? 2017 – 2021
    4. Partners from France: TEAM2, Université de Lille, Bureau de Recherches Géologique et Minières, IXSANE, Association pour la Recherche et le Développement des Méthodes et Processus Industriels.
    5. Partners from the Netherlands: Deltares, Port of Rotterdam.
    6. Who else? Cork Institute of Technology, University of Strathclyde, University College Cork, British Waterways T/A Scottish Canals.
  1. CEDaCI
    1. Goal: a circular economy for the data centre industry
    2. How? By increasing reclamation and reuse of Critical Raw Materials in the sector, extending product life through equipment reuse and remanufacture, reducing use of virgin materials, waste and environmental impact arising from the growth in redundant equipment and developing a secure and economically viable CRM supply chain for the sector.
    3. When? 2018 – 2021
    4. Partners from France: TEAM2, WeLOOP, Terra Nova Development.
    5. Partners from the Netherlands: Green IT Amsterdam.
    6. Who else? London South Bank University, Wuppertal Institut für Klima Umwelt Energie.


Euramaterialsis a competitiveness cluster dedicated to material and textile development. The organisation is a merger between Matikem (materials, chemicals and green chemistry) and UP-tex (technical textiles materials and processing). They also have a business club called CLUBTEX. This results in a large organisation with a lot of expertise! With 260 members, out of which 174 companies, they already financed 218 projects. And what makes them circular? Their main orientations are on sustainability for the material processing industry, such as advanced materials (including eco-design) and factories of the future (where sustainability is key).

retexIn the field of textiles and circularity, the Retex project by Euramaterials with Belgian partners is a great example of innovation and collaboration. This  partnership between France, the Walloon and Flanders regions has the goal to further develop textile recycling and eco-design. The difficulty with recycling of textiles lies in the connection between supply (of textiles to be recycled) and demand (for recycled materials). Therefore, the project focuses on collaboration with and along the textile supply chain with a large number of companies (250 organisations in total!). Watch their video here to find out more. And more importantly, the project will continue on a bigger scale, probably to the Netherlands as well! Don’t hesitate to contact them if you are interested in joining.

Pôle IAR

IAR is a cluster not just for the circular economy, but more specifically for bioeconomy. The French bioeconomy is one of Europe’s largest and the government has a clear strategy to stimulate further development of the sector. But in the last couple of years a lot has changed. Before, bioeconomy was focused on the replacement of fossil fuel. Nowadays, the focus is on fine chemicals and performance materials, for both industrial as commercial use. Want to know more about the development and opportunities in the bioeconomy sector in France? Read our recent report, here.

Back to IAR: they have over 400 member and their goal is to accelerate the development of biobased products. The bioeconomy encompasses several diverse markets, including:

  • Biomass resources: agricultural, foresty, marine, bio-waste
  • Food ingredients: food and feed
  • Bio-based molecules: cosmetics, paints, inks, coatings
  • Bio-based materials: building and public works, packaging, sport and leisure, design
  • Mobility and bio-energy: road, air and marine transport, gas, energy

And while IAR is based in the regions Hauts-de-France and Grand Est, their reach is truly national – France has an ambitious bioeconomy strategy – and even international. They also often participate in EU-funded innovation programmes and are positioned within the Bio-based Industries Consortium (BIC). In the Netherlands, one of their closest partners is TNO.

Creation Development EcoEntreprises (CD2E)

Lastly, eco-activities in Hauts-de-France are supported by the cluster CD2E, which calls itself the ‘accelerator of the eco-transition’. CD2E helps companies and environmental organisations from the region develop solutions to current problems. Their mission is to facilitate and accelerate the eco-transition on three levels:

  1. Circular economy
  2. Sustainable construction
  3. Renewable energy

Ad 1, CD2e employs 7 consultants who work on life cycle analysis (LCA) projects through their platform: [avniR] (avenir is French for future), and sediments recycling projects through the collective called SEDILAB.

And lastly, there are again some great example of French-Dutch collaboration involving CD2E through the Interreg programme!

  • CircE project (European regions toward Circular Economy)
    • Goal: strengthening the diffusion of Circular Economy (CE) in Europe, consistently with the European Commission’s Circular Economy Package.
    • How? Through an exchange of knowledge/experiences among partners, a continuous involvement of stakeholders and deeper analysis of economic system.
    • When? 2017 – 2021
    • Partners from France: CD2E
    • Partners from the Netherlands: Provincie Gelderland
    • Who else? Lombardy Region, Government of Catalonia, Marshal’s Office of Lower Silesia, London Waste and Recycling Board (LWARB), Sofia Municipality, Association of Municipalities and Towns of Slovenia (SOS).

Zero waste cities

To conclude, let’s look at a local initiative from the region to reduce waste. Or rather, eliminate waste! The city of Roubaix is pioneering in the ‘zero waste’ movement. In 2014, the city started a programme to stimulate citizens to reduce the amount of waste they produce by half. It started small. For three years, 100 households voluntarily participated. Workshops and meetings were held to teach them about compost, buying in bulk, how to sort waste, and more. The result? In 2016, the participants nearly got to their goal already (by attaining a 47% reduction)! Step by step, the city’s zero waste movement is accelerating. In order to continue on this path, Roubaix is planning several circular projects, such as setting up an incubator for circular companies, creating a logo for stores who are front-runners in the zero waste movement, and more. An initiative to follow!

In conclusion, these developments pose opportunities for Dutch stakeholders to enter the market or start collaboration projects. Interested? 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.