Waste management is an almost invisible activity as soon as private individuals’ rubbish bins have been taken care of by municipalities. However, managing the 350 kilograms per year of each French person is a major health and environmental challenge. This treatment takes place along a complex chain including the collection, sorting, recycling and final storage of waste, at an annual cost of around 15 billion euros.
At a time when the need for a transition to a circular economy is recognized, it is crucial to identify the challenges of the waste world. In Déchets: changez-vous les idées !, Isabelle Bellin and Christian Duquennoi give a detailed and educational overview of the end of life of objects from our economic systems.
Focusing on the French case, the book successively presents a historical and political retrospective of waste treatment, the diversity of treatment practices by waste category (paper, plastics, bio-waste, metals, etc.) and the new uses of the circular economy for sustainable waste management (object design, use economics). Several elements are of interest in this book.
First, the authors remind us that the reuse of waste into resources, an essential part of the circular economy, is not new. From 19th century ragpickers to incinerators with energy recovery after the oil shock show how contextual waste reuse practices are.
Secondly, the book recalls the central role of high technology in the current recycling of waste. To be effective, recycling requires a large number of innovations in increasingly complex equipment (e. g. thermal sensors to separate paper and cardboard!). However, many constraints limit this potential, as there are many materials that are difficult to recover or recycle (construction, rare metals, hazardous waste, etc.).
Thirdly, the authors recall the essential ingredients for a transition to sustainable waste management: a commitment by citizen-consumers (less buying, repairing, giving…) supported by public policies (taxes, subsidies, penalties, labels) determined to support citizens in their initiatives and encourage companies to change their production methods.
At the end of the book, one feels a little less confused when throwing away waste on a daily basis, but one question remains: how waste management could contribute to the fight against climate change ? Is a circular economy necessary for a carbon neutral economy?
 Quae, Versailles, 2018, 184 pages, 19,50 € [🇫🇷]