Photo: Recyclerie des Moulins

In Nice, how a winning model is transforming a district

Grandma’s beloved but worn out wicker chair; that vintage radio missing a switch; a coffee table with one too many scratches.

Don’t throw it away. Bring it to us and we’ll make it as new,’ is the message from the Recyclerie des Moulins in Nice, a one-of-a-kind sustainable economy initiative.

This European recognition has consecrated a project that is ... carried out as closely as possible to resident’s needs.
— Christian Estrosi, Mayor of Nice

Although embedded in its name, the project goes well beyond recycling and giving objects a new lease of life by combining the green economy with social and economic activities in the French Riviera.

People look at used items at the Recyclerie des Moulins. Photo by Recyclerie des Moulins

The effect is transformative: launched in 2018, la Recyclerie has helped turn Les Moulins – an urban regeneration neighbourhood, as the city defines it – into a notable example of sustainability that other areas and municipalities are now looking up to.

Last week, the initiative’s efforts and achievements have found Europe-wide approval when la Recyclerie des Moulins was awarded the top prize at Eurocities Awards 2021 in Leipzig in the ‘zero pollution’ category.

“This European recognition has consecrated a project that is emblematic of the success of our ambitious urban renewal policy, carried out as closely as possible to resident’ needs,” Christian Estrosi, the Mayor of Nice said of the award.

Indeed, locals are the main actors and beneficiaries of the Recyclerie des Moulins. It’s inhabitants of Les Moulins who carry out and implement the project’s three main pillars: waste reduction, social improvement and solidarity economy.

Repair it, buy it, love it

Rather uniquely, the project’s activities all unfold at the Recycleries’ 194 square-meter space.

Residents bring here defective and old items, from small appliances to furniture pieces to anything else that they no longer wish to keep at home.

Going against the currents of today’s online consumerism, the items collected are repaired, repainted and restored on-site, in the workshop of the Recyclerie. Only objects that can’t be fixed are recycled or disposed of.

In 2019 alone, almost 16 tons of old items were restored and sold here while 190 that couldn’t serve their old purpose were turned into other objects.

Shiny as new, reconditioned pieces are then sold next door at the Recyclerie’s shop. The items have a low price tag which makes them particularly attractive and affordable to the neighbourhood’s residents. In 2020, 53% of the sales went to customers living in Les Moulins.

Furniture at the Recyclerie des Moulins. Photo by Recyclerie des Moulins

Aside from repair and sale activities, the Recyclerie doubles as an educational garden to raise local awareness about daily actions that make a difference for the environment.

Workshops designed for both children and adults take them on a journey about waste sorting, recycling and compost-making.

The Recyclerie des Moulins staff. Photo by: Municipality of Nice Cote d’Azur

Success starts with locals

Whether buying upholstered chairs, digging soil with their bare hands or picking fresh vegetables from the garden, Les Moulins residents have shown great interest in the Recyclerie.

Some 1,407 residents have actively participated in the initiative and embraced its activities. The Recyclerie acts as a social aggregator in this neighbourhood, fostering social exchanges and playing a training and professional integration role, according to Nice city officials. 

The collection of discarded objects also helps to keep the streets clean, freeing them from bulky items that would otherwise be left there or at the feet of buildings.

At the same time, the project fullfils a socio-economic role: it offers people paid work and individual training in different circular economy sectors. Since its creation, the Recyclerie has hired four full-time employees and temporarily enrolled 41 others who were part of projects to re-enter the workforce.

The Recyclerie des Moulins in Nice. Photo by: Municipality of Nice Côte d’Azur.

Not an island

The Recyclerie’s success is strengthened by its partnership with other organisations.

A local high school for technicians, for instance, offers assistance in repairing discarded computers and electronic equipment as well as training to the Recylerie’s personnel; nursery, elementary and high school students come here to participate in the educational garden’s activities; NGOs, volunteers, a local psychotherapy centre and a municipal initiative on urban cleaning are all offering their own contribution.

Given the positive results, Nice officials say that the Recyclerie’s model is set to be exported to another district of the city. And after securing the 2021 Eurocities awards, other municipalities across Europe and beyond may well decide to follow into the Recyclerie’s footsteps and replicate its example to boost areas in need of socio-economic and environmental development.

La Recyclerie des Moulins has been funded by the European Development Fund (ERDF) and managed by the Région Sud – Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur.



Daniela Berretta Eurocities Writer