Some people recycle their old clothes, some keep chickens to make use of their food waste, some buy their reconditioned smartphones on BackMarket, and some fix their cars with second-hand parts. Most of us take part in the circular economy, often without realising it.
We may not all be perfectly green citizens complete with compost bins and eco-toilets, but individual eco-awareness is still spreading like a Mexican wave around a football stadium. And that’s a good thing. Because without wanting to serve up another sermon of doom, let’s not forget that in 2019 it would have taken “1.75 planets to meet humanity’s needs without jeopardising those of future generations”. It’s not news to anybody that we need to change our economic model, by using as few resources as possible and recycling when we can. That’s the circular economy.
But while the concept might seem easy to grasp, there are a number of aspects involved. When we talk about the circular economy, the first thing we think of is eco-design, i.e. the use of resources which are renewable, sustainable and reusable in other forms. For the automotive industry the challenge is considerable.
In practical terms, for Groupe Renault, it’s a question of designing sustainable vehicles with recycled and recoverable materials. More specifically, for our electric vehicles, it’s about finding a second life for batteries that are no longer usable, e.g. for storing renewable energy or providing power for buildings.
Reconditioning used vehicle components is nothing new to Renault. At Choisy-le-Roi, in Ile-de-France, the Renault plant has been giving spare parts a second life for 70 years. Almost 300 staff work at this site, where around 30,000 engines and gearboxes are manually stripped out, cleaned, certificated and refitted every year. Reconditioning has recently been extended to mechatronic parts and electronic circuit boards. These components are then offered for standard exchange at reduced prices. The plant is the only one of its kind and a benchmark for the circular economy in France and, in 2014, it won the Trophée de l’Economie circulaire, awarded by France’s Ministry of Ecology and Sustainable Development.
The circular economy also involves thinking in terms of the entire product life cycle. Take your tumble-dryer, for example. It’s not just a matter of factoring in the power consumption every time it dries your socks, but also its more general impact on the environment, in terms of CO2 emissions among others, from production right through to its end of life. This perspective is a better guide for knowing whether it’s worth carrying on using a product – like a smoky old car – or else recycling and replacing it with something else – like an electric vehicle with recycled fabrics, such as the New ZOE.
The circular economy is a chance to turn the clock back and revisit some time-honoured practices, like swapping and sharing. The modern equivalent of bartering a flint blade for a buffalo hide is called Vinted, the community platform for selling and swapping clothes online, and the trading of skills between the nomadic clans of the Palaeolithic is nowadays Stootie, the app where people can swap services. It’s about using rather than owning, sharing in other words, and that of course applies to the automotive sector too.
What comes to mind immediately is Renault Mobility, the per-hour or per-day self-service vehicle hire scheme in France. Then there’s Zity, Madrid’s electric car sharing scheme, and the Marcel ride-hailing service. You’ve already heard of these shared mobility services, but what you might not know is that Groupe Renault is even now working on the next phase
According to the UN, the global population in 2050 will reach 9.8 billion, of whom almost 70% will live in urban areas. Hence, the growing demand for urban mobility in the years to come is driving the need to develop effective schemes that are at once clean, sustainable and shared. Our response is to trial mobility services that are smart, shared, autonomous, electric, public or private, via two projects and autonomous ZOE prototypes: Rouen Normandy Autonomous Lab and Paris-Saclay Autonomous Lab. That’s quite apart from EZ-GO, EZ-PRO, EZ-ULTIMO and EZ-POD, the 4 concept robot-vehicles unveiled in 2018 and 2019 as life-size illustrations of our vision of future urban and shared mobility. If you just can’t wait, take a look at the mobility of the future here.
Let’s jump out of our robot-taxi a minute and swing over to Brassac to talk recycled textiles at Filatures du Parc. At this family firm, founded in the Tarn department in 1976, 300 tonnes of textile products are produced every year from old clothes and waste fabric. This is where the recycled textiles which you can now see in the New ZOE, on the seat covers, dashboard trim, gear lever console and door fittings, are designed. To be more precise, the 100%-recycled carded yarn used in the New ZOE is from seat belts, fabric scraps from the automotive industry and plastic bottles. This yarn is then sent to Adient Fabrics for weaving at its plant at Laroque d’Olmes, in Ariège. You can find out more here.
These examples show that while the automotive industry has certainly been part of the problem, it’s also clearly part of the solution, and Groupe Renault intends to be at the forefront. By recycling fabrics, reconditioning spare parts, re-using batteries from electric vehicle, and developing ever cleaner and more sustainable car-sharing services, we have put our weight behind a new and more virtuous economic model. We don’t plan to stop there, and along with our subsidiary company Renault Environment we are gradually applying these processes across all our operations. The next milestone is 2022, by which time we aim to increase our global use of recycled plastic by 50% compared with 2013.
 ADEME, October 2019 issue
 Note that built-in obsolescence, which has been the subject of much debate, has been classed as an offence in France since 2015
 In compliance with the European regulation of 2015
 In compliance with the European regulation of 2006.
 Groupe Renault is a signatory to the French Roadmap for the Circular Economy, the purpose of which is to aim at 100% recycled plastics in France by 2025.