What does it take to get an entire city to go zero waste? Located in the North of France, the small post-industrial city of Roubaix has succeeded in transforming their community into a zero waste haven with the help of citizens, local businesses and partners. Audrey Leclercq, Roubaix’s Sustainable Development Manager offers more insight into the city’s unique approach to zero waste, the role of design in helping them get there and how other cities around the world can aim to follow suit.
Before 2014, the term ‘zero waste’ was relatively unheard of in Roubaix. Historically a prominent textile hub, the city has faced high rates of unemployment and poverty since the 1970s, and lacked the infrastructure to implement more advanced methods of waste collection and treatment. On the heels of a 2014 election, where the issue of waste in the city had become a pivotal topic of debate, Roubaix was the first city in France to respond to the call for projects issued by the Ministry of Ecology in support of zero waste. “We didn’t know if citizens and local actors would share this vision with us,” stated Leclercq.
“To become a zero waste society, you need to reinvent almost everything: behaviour patterns, economic models, types of products and innovative alliances.”
Leclercq also points to design as a key contributing factor to Roubaix’s journey towards zero waste. The city works to implement design as part of each zero waste project, collaborating with designers, artists and young architects “to create new solutions and attractive concepts.” She argues that designers can help to support zero waste initiatives in their own cities by designing more participatory methods that create bridges between different actors and by focusing on small but concrete projects as well as the quality of their individual actions.
Roubaix’s desire to be innovative through design was further showcased as part of Lille Metropole’s World Design Capital programme in 2020. Through this platform, the city gained both national and international recognition and was able to implement several zero waste-themed activations, including a flagship circular economy and zero waste exhibit in a former convent.
Indeed, Roubaix’s approach to zero waste continues to inspire other communities around the world. “We have been contacted by representatives from Brazil, Chile, Canada and the United Kingdom to exchange best practices,” notes Leclercq. With plans to create an international network of zero waste cities, this small city in France continues to lead the charge towards a zero waste future.