Circular Economy series #10: Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur


For the 10th blog in this series, we zoom into the French region Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur (PACA). Did you know that the circular economy can smell good? And work for the luxury fashion industry too? Read inspiring examples from the PACA region for a more circular and inclusive regional economy in this blog.

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.


PACA in numbers

  • 5 059 473 inhabitants (in 2019)
  • €154.9 billion GDP
    • Or 6.6% of the French GDP
  • 31 400 km2 surface area
  • 445 kg of household waste produced per inhabitant per year (in 2019)
    • Which is 15% higher than the national average
    • But also 30% lower than it was in 2006
  • 5 million tonnes of household and non-hazardous waste in total per year
    • Which are treated in approximately 30 recycling facilities, 17 waste storage facilities, 5 incineration units, and 20 composting and methanisation centers.
  • 411 800 tonnes of hazardous waste per year
  • 5 million tonnes of inert and construction waste per year

Key economic sectors

  • Tourism
  • Transport and shipping
  • Agriculture (fruits and vegetables)
  • Perfume

The regional economy

The PACA region is also referred to as the South Region. The regional capital is Marseille and other big cities include Nice, Toulon, Aix-en-Provence, Avignon and Cannes. Its position next to the Mediterranean sea, which also gives access to the island Corsica, makes it a popular tourist destination. Other key economic sectors include transport and predominantly shipping, as Marseille has de largest port of France and Nice has the second biggest airport.

The agricultural sector profits from the favourable climate and mainly produces fruits (over 50% of the French orchards are in PACA) and vegetables. There’s even a fruit and vegetable museum, the PEIFL Epicurium, in Avignon.

Water also plays an important role in the region. The water management system stems from the Middle Ages, when it was already designed for efficient ground use to prevent droughts. As the economic activities and population of the region changed, the system evolved. Nowadays, the water management system caters to 5 million people, from households and tourists to advanced industries. The ancient wisdom of water management combined with new technological advances create a unique expertise for PACA. And Dutch companies, such as SBM Offshore, are active in the region for this reason.

Moreover, water also plays a role strengthening PACA’s transport sector. Thanks to is geography, it is a transport hub for movement of goods and people by rivers, sea (and especially via the biggest French port in Marseille), highways and railroads. There are more than 31,000 transport and logistics companies; making it the most important hub in the south of Europe.

And lastly, tourism is an important driver of the regional economy. The sunny climate, Mediterranean sea and varied landscapes and mountains attract French and international tourists, some 30 million visitors a year!


The South Region hosts ten competitiveness clusters (poles de compétivité): SAFE in the defense and security sector, CAPENERGIES in the energy sector, EUROBIOMED in the health sector, SCS in the ICT sector, OPTITEC in the optics sector, PASS in the cosmetic sector, AQUAVALLEY in the water sector, Mer Méditerranée in the blue economy sector, and TERRALIA in the plant and agricultural sector.

CE strategy

Regional (and European!) level: zero waste plan

The region has an ambitious zero waste plan. With support from the European LIFE fund, the region started the LIFE IP Smart Waste in January 2018. The PACA region leads the project together with the DREAL (Direction Régionale de l’Environnement, de l’Aménagement et du Logement), the national environment and energy agency ADEME (L’Agence de l’Environnement et de la Maîtrise de l’Energie), and CITEO who co-finances reduction, sorting and recycling of packaging waste for private companies. There are in total 21 partner organisations in LIFE IP, working on 135 different actions with a budget of €34 million euros.

The regional goals to reduce waste are between 2025-2030 are:

Type of waste Goal
Non-hazardous waste Increase material recovery from 40% in 2015 to 65% in 2025-2031
Inert waste Collect more than 2 megaton of inert waste from illegal channels and increase the recovery rate to 70% in 2025 and 2031
Hazardous waste Collect 100% of hazardous waste against only 60% in 2015 and recover 70% (material and energy) in 2025 and 2031

More information about the concrete actions taken within the LIFE IP Smart Waste programme can be found here.

Regional level: collaboration through PRECI

Recycling, eco-design, the sharing economy, renewable materials, products-as-a-service… Those are the keys for sustainable development that businesses in PACA are trying to implement. To help with that, a regional platform for the circular economy was created: PRECI (Plateforme Régionale de l’Economie CIrculaire). On Tuesday April 30 2019, the French government, the PACA region, the Environment and Energy Management Agency (ADEME), the regional Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Chamber of Trades and Crafts of region and the Bank of Territories signed an agreement to support the circular transition of companies.

The PRECI will help companies integrate circular economy principles that are both sustainable and competitive. Specifically this means that the breaks which slow down the transition to a circular economy need to be removed, such as: regulatory barriers, fear of change, lack of knowledge and expertise. Therefore, PRECI develops tools, financial aid, simplified regulation and a business community to make PACA more circular!

City level: Marseille

The capital of the region, Marseille, also set up a new circular economy cluster. The territories to the north of Marseille, the metropolis Aix Marseille Provence, are unfortunately dealing with a high percentage of unemployment and low percentage of waste recycling. There is a lot of work to do, as the numbers of pollution show that:

  • Only 22% of plastic is recycled in France (the lowest percentage in Europe);
  • 66 tonnes of plastic waste from France end up in the Mediterranean sea per day;
  • Between 1000 and 3000 tonnes of macro-plastics float on the surface of the Mediterranean (such as plastic bottles, bags, packaging and fishing nets);
  • There are 25 million plastic particles in the Mediterranean per km2;
  • 7% of all micro-plastics on earth are concentrated in the Mediterranean, even though the Mediterranean sea only represents 1% of water on earth.

However, this dynamic is pushing the cities to establish an inclusive, circular economy with new local jobs.

Since 2018, the Lemon Aide alliance works to bring together stakeholders in the recycling sector around a common goal: turn waste into resources while creating jobs for people distanced from the labour market. Lemon Aide was set up by the recycling startup Lemon Tri together with Fondation Agir Contre l’Exclusion (FACE) and Danone. Together, they offer their clients recycling solutions (such as waste bins or machines) and take care of the collection and traceability of the recycled materials, while creating access to the labour market for those who are furthest removed from it. In Marseille, there are now sorting solutions in 15 shopping malls in Bouches-du-Rhônes, at large shops such as IKEA, at schools and even at events such as festivals.

City level: Nice

The city of Nice also fosters circularity to boost its local economy and environment, especially in industry. Recall that in the French circular economy strategy, EIT (Ecologie Industrielle et Territoriale) is an important pillar which aims to establish circular material flows (water, energy, materials, logistics, resources …) between companies and industries.

EIT NiceLet’s look at an EIT project to see how industrial sites can become circular hubs. There was a business park in Saint-Laurent du Var that needed to be modernized. The PACA region, Chamber of Commerce and environmental agency ADEME provided funding to develop the site in a circular way. First, a study was conducted to map the material and energy flows on the park. Next, ACT’IF software, a tool based on geolocation that maps material flows, was implemented to identify potential synergies for resource exchange. What were the results? This project found out how the 300 companies on the business park can collaborate in a circular way. For example by efficiently sharing (excess) flows of materials, or by sharing jobs, providing pooled training for employees or by buying products through group purchasing.


Best practices

Circularity never smelled so good!

The Provence is known for its endless purple fields of lavender. With an abundance of flowers and herbs, it is no coincidence that the region has a thriving perfume and cosmetics industry. And the sector is also implementing circularity principles. For example the cosmetics brand L’Occitane, which is produced in the M&L Laboratories in Provence. L’Occitane eco-designed a special, sustainable shampoo. Their Aromachologie shampoo adheres to four sustainability and circularity principles. Firstly, materials and ingredients are locally sourced from Europe. Secondly, the formula has 93% natural ingredients, is 98% biodegradable and the manufacturing process is done at cold temperatures. Third of all, the packaging is more environmentally friendly because there is no extra sleeve, the bottle is extra-large (500 ml), there is a reward system for customers to return empty packaging, it is made from 100% recycled PET, and it comes with a pump to assure an appropriate dose of product. Lastly, the shampoo bottle is 100% recyclable and the pump can be detached for optimal sorting of materials.


Recently, the circular economy association OREE and the federation for beauty companies FEBEA  published a report on sustainability in the cosmetics industry. Find many more examples to be inspired, here!

The Plastic Odyssey

In Marseille, the first floating laboratory called the Plastic Odyssey, dedicated to plastic waste recycling and reduction will depart in 2020 for a 3-year expedition along the coasts of Africa, South America, and the Asia-Pacific. Every minute, 19 tons of plastic are dumped in our oceans. And once they’re there, it is too late. The plastic sinks and breaks down into pieces too small to be collected. Therefore, the Plastic Odyssey’s mission is to make sure this waste never ends up in the ocean. During their expedition, the ship will make more than 30 stopovers across the 3 continents most affected by plastic pollution to study the local needs and use of plastics and initiate local recycling units and waste reduction initiatives.

Plastic Odyssey

Luxury recycling

Recycling of unsold products is a challenge for the luxury business; they do not want the products to end up in the wrong hands, because of concerns of counterfeiting and discount markets. However, the luxury fashion group LVMH started the LIFE project to prove that circularity is still possible. While fifteen years ago, the group’s obsolete products were incinerated; now the excess is recycled in the PACA region. LVMH set up a partnership with the waste management firm CEDRE. Together they innovate to find new solutions for deconstructing products and optimizing traceability and security in the recycling process. It started with the Perfumes & Cosmetics division, but CEDRE now also specializes in the Fashion & Leather Goods divisions. This shows that circular economy can work for luxury too!


Educating the public

GRAINE is an organisation for environmental education in PACA. They teach citizens in the region how to adopt sustainable and circular habits. They do not do this alone; they create partnerships with local companies to create programs around specific topics. For example on water saving. PACA can experience droughts and water is therefore precious. The local population knows this, but many tourists that visit are not yet aware of it. Therefore, GRAINE worked together with the regional water agency to target local public places such as campings, hotels and stores to provide information to tourists. Thanks to a customizable communication kit (with articles and posters), communities can offer citizens tangible and practical solutions on to save water!

If you have any questions how to expand from the Netherlands into a French region, the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (, Embassy of the Netherlands in France and for the PACA region specifically the NBSO Lyon are here for you. Please do not hesitate to contact us.

Sources: DREAL PACA, report by OREE and FEBEA, Ma region du Sud.