Lemon Aide: when recycling meets professionnal rehabilitation


Lemon Aide was first established in 2016 with the clear aim of helping people away from employment to find work, collecting and sorting recyclable material. To achieve this aim, a unique partnership has been struck between start-up Lemon Tri; a foundation working in the interest of the public known as FACE; and the firm Danone. At the first ever LemonAiders award ceremony, the Sustainable Development Director for Danone Eaux France, Frédérique Rathle, filled us in on this innovative project.


How did Lemon Aide first come about?

Danone and Lemon Tri go back a long way already. We instantly grasped the appeal of this start-up’s smart waste-sorting machinery, which had originally been designed for corporate and campus use however. We suggested making this collection system available to the general public, setting equipment up in shopping centres for people to bring empty bottles in return for a voucher (earning 1 or 2 cents per bottle). It’s an initiative that energises people. It’s only natural, because sadly when times are hard, every little bit counts. But people are also happy in the knowledge that what they drop off will be reprocessed and recycled. The ensuing success highlighted a new need for an effective collection system. At this point, we came up with the idea of incorporating a social aspect to the project. We met with the Danone Ecosystem Fund, who recommended coupling this initiative with the creation of jobs for people away from employment. They also suggested working with the foundation FACE, which strives toward the professional rehabilitation of the long-term unemployed and to provide firms with assistance in their social commitments.

Lemon Aide thus took shape as a solidarity-led, social business.

Absolutely. We felt this was the most appropriate setup for this project, with the inherent obligations such as a pay gap of no more than 1:5, and frequent consultation of employees regarding all business decisions. We registered the firm in July 2016 and were approved as a social integration enterprise in September, meaning we could hire people on an rehabilitation pathway for a period of six months: we managed to get everything ready for the first wave of LemonAiders.

Practically speaking, how does Lemon Aide work?

The point is to hire people away from employment, to train them in jobs with a future (recycling and the circular economy) and foster their integration into the world of work. We are working to this end with various partners: the second-chance school, the FACE platform and Pôle Emploi (the French job centre). Once the applicants have been selected, we offer them a fixed-term integration contract. They then get a chance to develop their skills. 80% of their work time is spent performing tasks involving the sorting, recycling and compacting of waste. The remaining 20% is spent on training, both specific courses focusing on logistics and more general professional training including stress management, customer relations, drafting CVs and making presentations during interviews. Support for more personal matters is also available when necessary. The scheme acts as a springboard to a positive outcome (an open-ended contract, a fixed-term contract of over six months or a training course leading to qualifications), because we are not supposed to keep them for more than six months.

Integration is obviously a key element in the project, what about the circular economy?

In a circular economy, you create a product from a specific material, to be recycled once it reaches the end of its life. Mostly, this works within a “closed loop” with bottles made from PET being used to make more bottles. At Danone, our aim is to use an average of 25% recycled PET in our bottles by 2020 and 35% by 2025, so the project’s circular element is of great importance. You can also recycle in “open loop”, using PET to manufacture other products such as fleece and pens.

There’s also a mentoring scheme to provide support?

Yes. For this first set of workers, we had all female mentors! We had to move quickly, so all the candidates for this first session were Danone employees. For the second wave, we have a Veolia employee and someone else from Eco-Emballages who has shown an interest. These people have a key role: they are each assigned one LemonAider, to whom they provide tailor-made assistance, advice and moral support. This is crucial to foster self-confidence and find work. Especially given our conviction that recycling and the circular economy are promising sectors.

How does the Lemon Aide project fit in with Danone’s values?

It has both economic and social aspects. Danone stands for autonomy and profitability, as does Lemon Aide. However the social aspect is also an important element for us. We are achieving this aim by helping people in difficulty to integrate, being able to offer them this springboard.

How is the future shaping up for Lemon Aide?

For the moment, we have restricted the sorting equipment to shopping centres in the Paris region, because our aim is not to poach council-run recycling schemes that are already up and running. We are focusing exclusively on regions where it doesn’t work properly or has not yet developed fully. The recycling rate in Paris is below 20%. Once the project has got off the ground, we hope to develop equivalent schemes elsewhere, first in Marseille then Lyon. And why not elsewhere in Europe!

To know more about LemonAide, visit the Danone Ecosystem website.

Interview conducted by Daphnée Breytenbach

- By Usbek & Rica -