Circular Economy series #12: Grand Est

Today we explore the developments in the field of circular economy in the east of France, in the region fittingly named le Grand Est (‘the great east’). From circular champagne to phones, the region is shifting away from its traditional industries towards more service-oriented and sustainable business activities.

This blog is written by the Embassy of the Netherlands in France and explains the opportunities for Dutch organisations in France in the field of circular economy.

Grand Est in numbers

  • 5.55 million inhabitants (in 2018)
    • 8.3 % of the national population
  • 57,433 km² surface area
  • € 154.60 billion GDP (in 2017)
    • Or 6.7% of the national GDP
  • 521 kg of household waste per inhabitant in 2015
    • Or in total 2,890 million tonnes of household waste in the region

Key economic sectors

  • Agriculture, wine production and forestry
  • Car industry
  • Mechanical equipment

Regional economy

The Grand Est region’s economy is mostly run by industrial activity. In 2018, 26.1% of the population worked in industry (including construction) compared to the national average of 20.3%. There are several competitiveness clusters (‘pôles de compétivité’): IAR le Pôle de la Bioéconomie on biotechnology, Véhicule du Futur on ‘cars of the future’, Alsace Biovalley on healthcare, Pôle Fibre – Energivie and Pôle Materalia on materials and Hydreos on water management.

However, industrial activity has been declining. The economy is shifting towards the tertiary sector with more knowledge intensive jobs and concentrating around the region’s capital, Strasbourg. Emerging activities include ICT, Life Sciences and Health and creative activities such as design and publishing.

Another motor for the economy in the Grand Est is agriculture. It is the first region in France for the export of agro-food products, wood, wheat and corn. Moreover, viticulture, the growing of grapes for wine production, is very important for the region, as the Champagne region lies within its territory. In March 2019 the viticulture sector signed a contract with the region to focus on three strategic goals: competitiveness and sustainability of grape exploitation, export, and wine tourism. Also, the stakeholders agreed to go towards 0% herbicide in 2025!

Circular economy strategy

In October 2019, Grand Est published its Regional Plan for the Prevention and Management of Waste (PRPGD). This document includes: an overview of current waste amounts, prevention and management measures; targets for the prevention, recycling and recovery of waste; planning for the prevention and management of waste over six to twelve years; and a Regional Action Plan in favor of the Circular Economy (PRAEC). Let’s zoom in on the latter!

The Regional Action Plan in favor of the Circular Economy describes the different initiatives, from repair cafés to recycling centers. Important ways in which the region is supporting this transition are with financial support and expertise, which include investment aid for industrial projects, technical support for the realization of projects and business creation. In collaboration with ADEME Grand-Est and specifically their programme ‘Climaxion’, the region allocated 12 million euros to support the transition to the circular economy from 2017-2020. What kind of projects deserved extra funding lately? For example, the start-up Algae natural food uses waste material to produce micro-algae. With the waste water from its neighbor in the port of Strasbourg, the Cargill Malt house, the startup efficiently grows micro-algae including spirulina for the food industry.

Regional best practices

Circular Champagne

In the Grand Est we find the famous French sparkling wine region: Champagne. The wine-making process needs to fully take place here for the wine to carry the Champagne name. While it is a traditional and natural process, the production from vine to wine is not completely circular yet. Therefore, the Comité Champagne, the regional council and the bio-economy cluster IAR work together to increase the sustainability and circularity of champagne-making. The by-products are reused in innovative ways. When the grapes are juiced, the solid remains (pomace) including skins, pulp and seeds are used to make a distilled alcohol (marc de Champagne); ethanol for industrial use; grape-seed oil; additives or animal feed; and a wide range of anti-oxidants, color pigments and tartaric acid for application in foods, cosmetics and health products. Moreover, of the wood waste from old vines 80% is shredded and replaced on vineyard grounds to decompose, which helps maintain soil humus content; the remaining 20% is burned for energy recovery.

Sustainable smart phones

Inspired by the Dutch phone company Fairphone, the founders of Commown want to increase the uptake of such sustainable smart phones in France. Fairphone produces fair and circular phones that are easily repairable due to its modular design, uses Fairtrade gold and is B-Corp certified. Commown offers a products-as-a-service to the French market, that means that for a fixed monthly fee consumers can rent a Fairphone and have access to repair services and take-back at the end of life.

Fairphone 3

No tree to waste

Thanks to the many forests, the wood industry in the Grand Est thrives. However, to establish a circular economy it is important to design out waste from the wood industry. How? A partnership between industrialist Norske Skog and the Agglomeration of Epinal resulted in the Green Valley. The Green Valley connects companies in the wood industry with sustainable construction companies. For example, with the Pavatex project energy (steam) from the papermaking process is being reused to manufacture wood fiber insulation boards. This resulted in: a 12% reduction in energy consumption, 9,000 tonnes of wood saved, and 90,000 m3 less water needed every year.

Fight against food waste

La Conserverie Locale in Metz is a workshop with a circular mission: the fight against food waste. Local unsold food and agricultural surpluses are transformed into canned goods, jams, pickles, soups, chutneys, sauces and more. Their goal is to create an ecosystem of local canneries that can be replicated all over the country so every local producer has a facility close by to process their surplus foods. Aside from being a production site with the necessary machinery to transform waste into new foods, La Conserverie also organizes workshops on conservation methods (bottling, fermentation, syrup, etc.) to anyone who is interested to reduce their food waste.

La Conserverie Locale

Contact us

Curious how you could expand your circular business or innovation projects to France? If you have any questions how to expand from the Netherlands into a French region, the Netherlands Enterprise Agency ( and the Embassy of the Netherlands in France are here for you. Please do not hesitate to contact us.

Sources: European Commission Regional Innovation Monitor, Collectif Grand Est