Paris cyclists pedal against food waste

Biocycle volunteers ride around the French capital every day on their three-wheel electric bikes.
Biocycle volunteers ride around the French capital every day on their three-wheel electric bikes.

In France, 10 million tonnes of food are thrown away each year – 1.2 million of which are still edible. To combat this colossal waste of food, volunteers for the Paris-based association Biocycle ride back and forth between food shops and charities in an effort to redistribute almost 500 kilograms of food every week.

Every day they criss-cross the capital, collecting unsold food from markets and grocery stores. The produce is then rushed to local charities and food banks, so that it can be distributed to the people who need it most.

Based in the 14th arrondissement of Paris, Biocycle was founded in 2014 by Jean-François Recco, a business graduate who had recently taken up a job in the IT sector. He explains how he and some friends came with the idea after buying a baguette at the local bakery.

“This project is also for shop owners who are frustrated at having to throw away their products”

I realised there was still lots of bread left at the bakery at the end of the day. When I asked the baker what he planned to do with everything left over, he told me with a grimace that he was going to have to throw it all out. However, only a few steps from the bakery, there were people that could have used it. I was fed up with the situation, so I got together with a couple of friends to try to do something about it.

First we went to talk to shop owners about the issue and see how they dealt with waste. We did the same thing with charities to get an idea of the kind of thing they needed. Then we simply got a bike and a little trailer and started going backwards and forwards between the two.

It was really a volunteer movement led by locals. Every month we had new volunteers. In November 2015, we became an association, and this was long before the law against food waste had come into force. [Editor’s note: As of February 3, 2016, large supermarkets in France are obliged to distribute their unsold goods to charities rather than throw them away.]

A volunteer during a collection of unsold food. Photo credit: Biocycle.

At the moment, we have a team of six people who are paid (made up of employees, interns and volunteers paid through a government scheme). We work regularly with around 10 different organisations, from large supermarkets to open-air food markets and corporate catering companies. We also have a rotating food donations system with between five and 10 other organisations.

Our work is only possible thanks to the relationships that we’ve cultivated and our careful logistics planning, particularly for food items that we need to keep cold, which we do with chilled compartments. We do everything by bike, partly because it’s a green and efficient mode of transport, but also because it means we are on the ground and visible. Sometimes passers-by will stop us to ask us questions about the project.

"Half a tonne of food per week goes to 300 people"

Once we’ve dropped off the food at a charity, they’ll work on distributing it to people who need it. The charities we work with don’t have the time or the resources to go and collect the food themselves. Biocycle plugs that gap. This project is also for shop owners who are frustrated at having to throw away a large part of their products. Some businesses can even be eligible for a tax deduction if they donate their food – this is something we make sure to emphasise when we go to speak to businesses.

We estimate that we collect about half a tonne of food every week that can help around 300 people, who may be homeless, single parents, pensioners or even poor students.

Biocyle’s next objective is to expand into other regions in France and find people who would be willing to carry the project forward. The venture is primarily funded through subsidies, and they are looking to diversify their streams of revenue so that they can employ more staff. To this end, Biocycle members do a lot of outreach like giving presentations to companies and organising events where members of the public can make smoothies or soups from “ugly” fruit and vegetables – the kind that don't find buyers in supermarkets – using a ‘bicycle blender’.

Biocycle uses this ‘bicycle blender’ to make smoothies and soups from “ugly” vegetables. Credit: Biocycle

One of the long term plans for Biocycle is the start of a line of juices, smoothies, soups, jams and purées made from fruit and vegetables that have been saved from the trash can.