The Occitanie region is striving for a circular economy, not just on land but at sea too. From recycling fishing nets to making leather from fish skins, local materials are used optimally and circularly! And there is more. Read all about it in this new blog in our 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.
Occitanie in numbers
- 9 million inhabitants (in 2019)
- Or 8.8% of the national population
- 72 724 km2 surface area
- €166 billion GDP (in 2017)
- Or 7.25% of the national GDP
- 630 kg of household waste per inhabitant per year
Key economic sectors
- Agriculture and fishing
- Research and innovation
The Occitanie region is the second biggest region in France and is even larger than the Netherlands. But with almost 6 million inhabitants, the population density in the region is 79.6 people per km2 (relatively low compared to the Netherlands, where the density is 488 people per km2). Moreover, 44% of the population lives in the main 4 urban areas: Toulouse (23%), Montpellier (10%), Perpignan (6%) and Nîmes (5%).
For the regional economy, the agriculture is very important. In terms of employment, Occitanie has the second biggest agricultural sector. Specifically, the region excels in organic farming and wine production. And due to its coastal position, fishing is big business, as well as other water related activities, such as transport and tourism.
Occitanie is a leader in aeronautics and space. There are 800 companies, which provide for 86,000 regional jobs. Airbus and ATR have their headquarters in Toulouse. And in the surrounding departments such as Ariège, Aveyron, Le Lot and near the Mediterranean sea in Hérault, Gard and Pyrénées-Orientales, many smaller SMEs are located who are active in the aeronautics sector.
Lastly, with 6 billion euros in R&D expenditures, 30 0000 researchers, 15 competitiveness clusters* and 35 universities and graduate institutes, Occitanie is the number 1 region in France for research.
* which include: Agri Sud-Ouest Innovation (aquatic products), Cancer Bio Santé (biotech and health), Elopsys (photonics), Eurobiomed (emerging pathologies and diseases), Qualiméditerranée (agronomy), DERBI (renewable energy and materials), Pôle Européen de la Céramique (ceramics), Pôle Risques (territorial risk management), Terralia (agriculture), Viameca (mechanical systems).
The Occitan economy uses 80 million tonnes of materials per year. At the same time, yearly 17 million tonnes of materials end up as waste. To prevent such big amounts of materials from being wasted, on 14 november 2019 the region adopted a circular economy strategy: PRAEC (Plan Régional d’Actions en faveur de l’Economie Circulaire). There are six axes on which the strategy focuses: governance, economic systems, territories, public policies, research and innovation, and waste.
There are 3 challenges and priorities for the PRAEC in Occitanie:
- Dissociate the production of wealth from the consumption of resources;
- Create value and jobs in the region;
- Valorize waste more and reduce landfilling by 50% by 2050.
To advance on these issues, the platform Cycl’Op was founded. Cycl’Op facilitates working groups for each of the PRAEC axes where stakeholders can contribute actively and practically to achieve the regional goals. An example: the platform’s members set up an experiment for sustainable and local fish farming in the Thau Bassin. Instead of soybean meal, the fish are now fed leftover bread from local sources!
Making more from waste
In addition to the PRAEC, Occitanie adopted a regional plan for the prevention and management of waste (Plan régional de prévention et de gestion des déchets (PRPGD)). The objectives are structured around the national goals to increase recycling rates of non-hazardous waste to 65% by 2025 and to 70% in 2020 for construction waste. There are diverse examples of how Occitanie is valuing waste, for example:
- Gypsum is the raw material to make plaster. Did you know that it’s infinitely recyclable, if all of its impurities are removed? In Lespignan, a recycling factory receives various plaster waste from construction sites which they can fully recycle into new raw materials for local plaster producers.
In Brassac, safety belts and plastic bottles get a new life in the car industry. A collaboration between Filatures du Parc with car maker Renault and textile manufacturer Adient facilitates the recycling of waste to make new fabric for Renault car seats in their circular Zoe model.
- Palana Environnement valorizes marine litter to preserve ecosystems in the water and on earth by using new innovative technologies. One of their projects is ‘Net Sea’, the first recycling project for fishing nets in France. Started in 2016, the project is run by a team of 15 volunteers, who combine their skills in diving, scientific expertise, collection, recycling, recovery and awareness-raising activities to reach their goal of 100% recycled or re-used fishing nets.
Best practices for regional companies
The sneakers by The String Brand are made from a very special, circular material: tuna fish! The Barba group, a seafood producer from Occitanie, came up with this material because so many fish skins are wasted in their production process. The idea to transform the skin into “fish leather” was born out of a collaboration between the Barba group and local shoe designer Tommy Bernal. Together, they created The String Brand. Soon, local customers will be able to buy sneakers and other accessories made from 100% tuna leather!
Wine barrels for children
There are many winemakers in Occitanie. But what to do with the oak wine barrels once they are out of use? OKIDOKID gathers them from regional wine houses and transforms them into little huts for children. In collaboration with two local companies, Biograneta (from Montbrun Lauragais) and Biovercité (from Muret), the barrels are furnished with cushions from organic materials. In these cozy cocoons, children can read, listen to stories or to music. At the same time, it teaches children about upcycling in a playful way, while promoting leisure activities without a screen.
Eco Tech Ceram is an engineering firm that developed an innovative way to recycle energy by recovering the heat from fumes in industrial factories. In France, 51 MWh of heat is wasted per year, according to a study by ADEME in 2015. This is equivalent to the annual consumption of nearly 1 million homes! Eco Tech Ceram offers energy recovery solutions by storing excess heat with ceramics made from industrial waste. For example, their Eco-Stock® is a heat accumulator that can store 2MWh at 600°C. It is made from refractory ceramics from the circular economy. How does it work? Hot fumes from the chimney go into the Eco-Stock®, storing energy by heating the ceramics. Thanks to a modular “Plug and Play” system, the heat can be used directly on site or transported to other sites.
For tourists visiting the beaches of Occitanie, the Tri Riders offer a fun circular activity: a drive in an electric car while collecting waste on the beach! Each small car is equipped with 4 sorting bins and a cigarette butt tube. The Tri riders team is trained in waste sorting, so they can inform travelers how to arrange the waste. If the drivers correctly collect more than four pieces of trash, their ride is free.
If you have any questions how to expand from the Netherlands into a French region, the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO.nl), Embassy of the Netherlands in France and for the Occitanie region specifically our Netherlands Business Support Offices in Nantes and Lyon are here for you. Please do not hesitate to contact us.
Sources: European Commission Regional Innovation Monitor, Cycl’Op, ADEME Occitanie
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