Eric Brac de la Perrière is the founder and CEO of Yoyo, a French company that aims to accelerate plastic collection around the world to prevent pollution. He is also the former CEO of Citeo, the biggest French recycling organization. As for all our interviews, we started by showing him testimonies that we collected around the world. This video shows a selection of his answers, and you can read his full interview below.
20 Questions About Water: What is your first reaction to these testimonies?
Éric Brac de la Perrière: Many people have strong opinions about what needs to be done. We don’t necessarily agree on how we should act, but the beautiful and encouraging thing for the future is the growing awareness that action is needed.
20QAW: Can you please introduce yourself?
E.B.P.: I am Éric Brac de la Perrière, founder of Yoyo, a company that aims to accelerate plastic collection around the world to prevent pollution. In my view, this is a fundamental subject, and I plan to dedicate the next and last 15 years of my career to this quest of stopping plastic pollution. In this regard, Yoyo collaborates with consumers, inhabitants and individuals, and financially rewards their sorting, because that’s what makes recycling possible. Without improving the collection process, recycling is hampered. Everything starts with the consumer, and working around this theme makes us realise how much action is possible and how effective it can be.
20QAW: Can you make a quick history of recycling? When did it start?
E.B.P.: We have to go back to prehistoric times, because until the 1950s the entire world used to recycle anything it consumed or found in nature. When mass consumption rose, particularly with the emergence of major cities, we simply started throwing things away, and stop recycling. Fortunately, awareness is rising, and we start to realise that we can’t just throw things away in nature.
In Europe, Germany is the leader in terms of collection and recycling initiatives. In the 1980s, the Green Party was influential enough to implement a deposit on bottles among other solutions, which meant ecological considerations weren’t secondary topics, but could in fact drive change.
When these two processes become integrated, it will be a game-changer and we’ll make a giant leap forward.
20QAW: Why is such a little amount of plastic actually recycled?
E.B.P.: Recycling doesn’t work in cities and highly populated areas simply because it comes after consumption. As a consumer, I buy, I consume, and then I wonder what to do with the waste. Should I recycle it for the benefit of everyone: me, nature, and all stakeholders; or should I throw it away and penalise everyone: generating extra expenses to make up for this bad habit?
Companies that market these bottles delegate the collection process by paying an ecotax, they do not handle it themselves. Imagine how different things would be if these companies ran marketing campaigns to get these bottles into a virtuous circle. It would be incredibly powerful. For me, when marketing a bottle, the design, sale and logistics part should not be run separately from the design and sale of collection and recycling solutions. When these two processes become integrated, it will be a game-changer and we’ll make a giant leap forward.
20QAW: Who is in charge of educating people to recycle?
E.B.P.: The question of “Who” isn’t exactly relevant, there isn’t a single person that can solve this problem. What matters is the “With”. We act, other people act, and all stakeholders move towards 100% recycling, meaning zero impact. So my answer to “Who” would be: everyone, at our level. For instance, in France, Yoyo rewards inhabitants and has implemented a network of ambassadors and coaches to explain the recycling process to consumers. We hope that our strategy, based on the “With”, will spread so that cities, companies, brands as well as building and logistics companies can join us to combine our strength and fight pollution. So who? Everyone.
Once the user of the packaging has discarded it in the right place, we are almost saved so to speak, and it makes the rest of the process much easier.
20QAW: How far can recycling be the solution to plastic waste?
E.B.P.: Undeniably, recycling is part of the solution. Modern consumption is based on plastics, and it affects every aspect of mass consumption. For instance, if we don’t use preservatives in organic food, packaging must take over in terms of protection to prevent risks. Mobility, single-parent families and constant movement in our societies lead to single portions, which generate a lot of packaging. Recycling is all about mitigating the impact.
Something essential in my view is how to involve people to improve waste collection, particularly in cities, where the recycling rate is only around 10%. This means 90% of used packaging isn’t recycled. We need to improve waste collection in cities by educating and turning people into active stakeholders of the initial collection process. Once that initial step is taken, meaning when the user of the packaging has discarded it in the right place, we are almost saved so to speak, and it makes the rest of the process much easier.
Plastic isn’t an aberration, as long as it remains cost-effective to recycle it. However, if every packaging uses different types of plastic, the industrial resources needed for recycling aren’t cost effective anymore. Plastic is clearly a necessity, but we need some uniformity in the type of plastics we rely on.
20QAW: What is the best way to develop a recycling infrastructure that gives value to plastic?
E.B.P.: In Europe, and across the world, the recycling industry isn’t in a very good shape because we lack the necessary volume of material to be cost-effective and sustainable. The real challenge is in the collection process, which is essential to expand the recycling industry and improve its processes, both in terms of quality and volume.
The moralisation of ecology goes against innovation. We need to promote a positive attitude towards plastics and the environment in general
20QAW: Which innovations are being developed to reduce packaging’s environmental footprint?
E.B.P.: In my view, innovations must focus on collection and logistics processes, because if these aren’t effective enough, they become so expensive that very few stakeholders implement them. Cities, states, but also businesses must invest a lot in innovation to invent new collection systems. Yoyo is one of those, but we need many more, and we need to implement them much faster to see the emergence of new collection models that are more beneficial to inhabitants.
The moralisation of ecology goes against innovation. We need to promote a positive attitude towards plastics and the environment in general. Consumers need a fun and ecological action in which they believe and with which they can build a sustainable relationship to create an efficient process. This will lead to a positive gesture fully integrated to the consumption process and generate larger recycling volumes.
Reaching a 100% recycling and zero-impact plastic industry is a short-term objective.
20QAW: How do you imagine the future of water containers in a hundred years?
E.B.P.: In my view, the future of bottled water is all about quality and zero impact. There will always be a water supply, and providing a quality product is absolutely essential, water is life. The impact on the environment of water bottles is massive, which means we must absolutely reduce this impact. Reaching a 100% recycling and zero-impact plastic industry is a short-term objective. I’m convinced that the water industry, as well as other mass-consumption industries, can find solutions to reach a zero-impact plastic production. This matter is tightly connected to customers’ consumption habits. This can be compared to what has already started to happen in the mobility and car industry, with a much lighter impact than ever before, particularly in terms of accidents. This is something we need to emulate in the water industry to reach our zero-impact goal.