Terra 95 and sustainability: Interview with Emmanuel de Noailles

On 1 October 2014 by estanton

 Talking about Terra 95 with Emmanuel de Noailles

Emmanuel de Noailles, Maire of Epinay-Champlatreux

Emmanuel de Noailles, Maire of Epinay-Champlatreux

At the ripe young age of 32, Emmanuel de Noailles, an accountant to a fresh crop of Parisian entrepreneurs, only recently became elected mayor of Épinay-Champlâtreux. Located in the Val-d’Oise department north of Paris, this commune, in which Mr. de Noailles   has deep ancestral roots, counts only 68 inhabitants. It draws our attention today because it  is controversially home to both a national park and the construction of a waste collection  site. Here, Mr. de Noailles shares with us his views on environmental responsibility in  France today.

What are your views on the waste collection site in Épinay-Champlâtreux?

The project, named Terra 95, is the result of a collaboration between the French companies Bouygues (civil engineering, real estate development, telecommunications services), SEITA (former national tobacco monopoly), and Paprec (waste collection and recycling). It consists of a garbage dump, a waste treatment unit, a greenhouse and a sorting and recycling facility on 40 hectares (editor’s note: about 33 million euros are being invested into the project).

The project has been called into question by the administrative tribunal over the past several years (in 2006 and 2009). It’s seen as controversial because Épinay-Champlâtreux is part of the PNR (Regional Natural Park) Oise-Pays and the town’s castle is classified as a French historic monument. The park, along with three regional environmental associations, has tried to question the legality of the building permit for the past decade, but the directors of Terra 95 have verified that the site won’t cause any environmental damage and it has already been approved by the Ministry of Ecology. At the start of 2014, the project was finally approved by the State Council.

The job isn’t done yet and there are still many people to convince. Right now we are waiting for validation from the Court of Appeal and authorization from the prefect. But if everything goes as planned, this project will soon see the light of day.

Was there a vote in your commune about the Terra 95 project?

The town council voted in favor of it and the majority of our inhabitants support the project, because they understand the revenue it will generate for the commune. It will greatly reduce local taxes and allow us to pursue new projects for the town, like opening a library. The project itself will create 60 job opportunities.

Aside from the Terra 95 project, what environmental issues are you concerned with in your commune?

The biggest issue we face is illegal waste dumping on our grounds. People in larger neighboring towns will for example do renovations in their homes that result in a huge pile of waste. It’s very expensive to bring that waste to a site, around 100 euros per square meter. If, for example, you break down one wall in your house, that’s already three or four bags of waste. Instead of paying to leave it at a waste treatment site, they drive it up to my commune, which is the perfect isolated spot between the city and the country, and dump it wherever they want. So since the commune is already a dump why not make some money out of it! Jokes aside, to address this we gather as a town for a few days twice a year and clean up all the waste.

As mayor, where does the environment rank in your list of priorities?

If I had say five priorities, the environment would only be 4th or 5th. For me, ecological concerns today are a luxury and aren’t a priority for smaller communes likes mine, where people have less money and are more isolated. Ecology should be the number one concern of a big city like Paris – the concept of “helping the environment” itself is an urban one. In the towns around Épinay-Champlâtreux, the people most concerned with “helping the environment” are city-dwellers who move to the country, who just want to escape the city and transform it into a wild forest, not the traditional farmer who is already in contact with nature on a daily basis. The reality is that the farmer, who “should” be the first in line to address environmental concerns, is aware of the necessary balance between ecology and economic development.

This leads to another issue: who decides when, where and how to help the environment? There are two categories of ecologists: people who truly care about nature and people who are ecologists purely by opportunism. This second category of “political ecologists” is very dangerous and, I have to say, includes the majority of people elected at my level, who just use environmental concerns to gain new votes.

For example, concerning the Terra 95 project, these politicians would tell me behind closed doors that the project was great, but that they could not support it because it would prevent them from being reelected. What’s crazy is that these people are against a waste treatment site, but they all produce waste! They just don’t want it in their own communes. That isn’t reality – if you’re against waste sites then stop producing waste. This is one of the reasons why I fully support the project, I’m conscious of the necessity to address and treat the problem of waste.

Do you think drastic efforts to really reduce waste consumption are possible today?

Yes of course, but the people to address and make aware of problems are more those in the agri-food industry than consumers. A huge problem is the amount of used packaging for food products and the main reason for this packaging is transport. Buying local products will inevitably reduce packaging and thus reduce waste. In fact, a project I would love to launch in Épinay-Champlâtreux is a market gardening industry, to be able to sell fresh fruits and vegetables to the 2,000-plus cars that drive through our commune every day. Half the cost of a vegetable is transport. It would be great to create a system where we could sell local products to local consumers at half the price.

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