Quality of cities, the magazine of the RATP group that shows THE CITY DIFFERENTLY.

Retour au site RATP GROUP


Focus on San Francisco and Paris

Take action to change our personal and collective habits. In the face of the climate emergency, that might seem obvious. But in reality, it’s not so easy. So, what drives people to take action? What is it that spurs them on?

Many initiatives are already in place for cities, with the IPCC’s 6th report once again underlining the essential need for them to adapt in the face of climate risks. For Pierre-Emmanuel Saint-Esprit, founder of ZACK, a company that reuses electronic waste, one thing is certain: “The argument that you must change because climate change signals the end of the world is ineffective.” This enthusiastic proponent of the circular economy was confronted with this question of change when he had to convince people to use ZACK’s service. He believes that several factors contribute to spurring people into action. “There is the anti-waste law, which requires companies to take action.

But there are also employees who won’t accept their company harming the environment, and the need to show customers that positive action is being taken in this field.” He is convinced of it: “It is an ecology of solutions – recycling, reuse, adopting simple and effective habits – that drives people and groups to take action. When you offer environmentally friendly solutions, with a beneficial social and economic impact, it lets people imagine a new, positive story.” Creating attraction and arousing enthusiasm are essential to building momentum. And moving into action.

Zero waste target

In 2002, San Francisco city council voted for the goal of “zero waste by 2020”, and everything still needed to be done. What was the turning point? A study showing that 90% of the waste produced by the city was recyclable. But also the city council’s view, adopted very early on, that waste was a resource rather than a liability. But how has this goal been achieved, in under 20 years? The California city opted for recycling and composting, to do away with incineration and to create jobs. Recology, the cooperative in charge of collecting waste from 860,000 residents, manages a 20,000 m2 sorting centre, the largest in the world, equipped with cutting-edge technology.

To tip the balance, all stakeholders had to be brought on board. First hotels and restaurants, for their organic waste, then the construction sector, required to recycle concrete, metal and wood since 2006. Finally residents, who since 2009 have been required to recycle and compost, spurred on by financial incentives. The result is mass participation in a virtuous system, for the economy as well as the environment.


“Moving to a zero-waste lifestyle is a collective effort.”

Laura Frouin
in charge of the Zero Waste France project

You work with local authorities on waste reduction. What levers encourage them to take action?

L.F. The first lever is simply showing that it is possible. We rely on the inspiring example of cities that have successfully moved to zero waste. We also prove to them that this can be positive – from an environmental point of view, of course, as well as economic, social and democratic. Because while these decisions may seem very unpopular, polls today show that city residents expect their elected officials to make provisions for buying in bulk, deposit-refund systems, repairable consumer goods, and the sorting of bio-waste. At the same time, local authorities can introduce incentive-based pricing, which means linking the cost of the household waste tax to the weight of the bins. These actions are very effective in reducing waste in the region and are well accepted by residents. The town of Besançon successfully implemented this. Another example is the city of Strasbourg, which has introduced a zero-plastic policy in school canteens.

The second lever is to demonstrate feasibility. For this, we use forecasting tools and we present scenarios. We are working with one region at the moment and have shared a scenario with them entitled “Zero Waste Region by 2050”. The people we work with then understand what a zero-waste lifestyle means in practical terms, at the collective level. They realise that this is not such a difficult change, and nor is it synonymous with a more complex daily life or deprivation when it is thought-out and supported by public players. The story becomes attractive and, above all, possible.

What obstacles must you overcome when working with local authorities?

Often, one department in particular is very motivated on the subject but finds it difficult to get the others on board. Our involvement as an external citizens’ association allows the various departments to discuss this issue. Then we get them to work on solutions that can be implemented easily. We advise them to start small – one waste stream, one event, one service – to initiate a virtuous circle.

When these are successful, they are motivated to move up a gear. What is fascinating is that people quickly understand that the issue of zero waste is a gateway: behind it lie many other subjects. Waste of resources, consumption patterns, ways of thinking about the city: the thinking then becomes more broadly based. And the move to action follows.

Les Deux Rives, the first circular business district

It all started with waste. In 2012, RATP, whose head office is next to Gare de Lyon, was looking for a way to pool waste collection. A first link was then established with neighbouring companies around a common goal: to reduce both the environmental footprint and the cost of collection. Three years later, the Grand Paris États Généraux de l’Économie Circulaire (forum on the circular economy) was the occasion for RATP and the City of Paris to enter into a partnership agreement. This made the initiative move up a gear in 2017. In the 350-hectare business district, located over the border between the 12th and the 13th arrondissement of Paris, over forty companies have joined the movement.

By working around common issues, they can experiment with pooling practices, which are more economical and more productive. In addition, in November 2021, a dedicated governance structure was set up, the “Association Deux Rives, circular district”. A community of companies, institutions and associations, Les Deux Rives recently responded to the call for expressions of interest launched by the Île-de-France Region to promote the development of this model. Because beyond the wish to practise circular economy, there is also the wish to inspire others.


“The world today is only 8.6% circular. This means that most natural resources extracted and utilised.”

Pierre-Emmanuel Saint-Esprit
Managing director and co-founder of circular company ZACK, professor of circular economy

Retour au site RATP GROUP