Emmaüs Lescar-Pau Village : The Recyling-Waste Center



Web: http://www.emmaus-lescar-pau.com/

Contact: contact@emmaus-lescar-pau.org

Location: Pau, Pyrénées-Atlantiques (64), France

Sector: End of Life, Sales and services

Date of creation: 1982

Date of analysis: July 2020

Project maturity: viable

An alternative village that advocates anti-capitalism and defends ecology, a self-sufficient village (financially and in terms of food) at the service of its community in the Southwest of France.


  • The Emmaüs Movement

Abbé Pierre is at the origin of the international Emmaus solidarity movement, which aims to fight against poverty and homelessness. He created the first community in 1949, in the Paris region, with the first companions, who built housing to rehouse many families and worked as ragpickers, transforming and reusing the waste of others. The movement was then consolidated: the French movement now brings together 288 groups, including 115 communities and many other structures carrying out social actions and rehabilitation programs. [1] The status of companion at Emmaus is now recognized by the Ministry of Labor.

Emmaus’ values are: solidarity, unconditional welcome, autonomy through activity and sustainable development. The Emmaus communities’ activities therefore revolve around welcoming those in need (they are above all reception structures) and interacting with the general public. Their political commitment is structuring and important, as they carry out charitable work.

Several Emmaus organisations were set up in different countries: a meeting was organised with all the Emmaus organisations and Emmaus International was then created in 1971 by Abbé Pierre, bringing together 410 member organisations in 41 different countries in Africa, America, Asia and Europe. [1]

L’abbé Pierre (source : France Inter) 

  • The Emmaüs Lescar-Pau Village

“It is when each of us waits for the other to begin that nothing happens“, Abbé Pierre

The Emmaus community of Pau was created in 1982 and was located in a former textile factory. After a few months of work, the first companion was welcomed and the bric-a-brac activity then developed. In 1987, the community moved to its current location in Lescar and, in 1990, Abbé Pierre inaugurated a 27-room building to accommodate the journeymen and several new workshops. In 1995, the Emmaüs village was created: 25 mobile homes were installed, a community center and a grocery store were built. [1]

The Emmaus village of Lescar-Pau is now the largest Emmaus community in France with around 130 companions, 20 employees and dozens of volunteers who join the community for a day or more. [1]

Mural at the entrance of the Village

  • Poverty in France [2]
    • One Frenchman out of seven is considered poor, living on less than 987 euros per month;
    • 20.5% The proportion of young people affected by poverty;
    • 3.5 million The number of French people who are poorly housed or not housed;
    • A quarter of the French-speaking homeless work. 


Infographics on poverty in France in 2018 (source : Insee)

  • The Emmaus Lescar-Pau village

    • It is the largest Emmaus village in France;
    • The village extends over 11 hectares, 4.5 hectares of which are dedicated to the farm. A further 24 hectares are owned by the community for breeding and agriculture; [1]

    • 150 people live there to date;

    • The village is developed from 18 workshops (Office, Creations, Kitchens, Eco-construction, Household Appliances/Lights, Electronics/computers, Alternative Farm, Scrap Metal/Metals, Car Mechanics/cycles and lawn mowers/Wrought iron, Carpentry, Pick-up, Sorting of objects/Books, Clothes and accessories);

    • the village welcomes, on average, 1750 daily visitors who can come and buy many natural products made by the organic producers of the region, eat at the bar/restaurant or visit the village farm; [3]

    • On the strength of its success, the village of Lescar-Pau is now financially self-sufficient. It has a turnover of 3.5 million euros per year and does not receive any subsidies; [3]

  • The Recycling-Waste Center
    • 250 to 600 vehicles per day; [3]
    • Open 7 days a week;
    • 8 people to accommodate the vehicles; [3]
    • more than 70% of the stuff is recycled thanks to the 18 workshops so that they can find a second life (furniture, dishes, books, clothes, trinkets, bicycles…); [3].
    • The objects are sold in the form of giant flea market, under 6000 m² hangars; [10]
    • A partnership has been in place for over ten years between the Pau Urban Community and the Lescar Pau Emmaus Village (and does not receive any subsidies).
  • Extinction of product lifespan and recycling

Recycling or resource centers are structures that ensure the management of the cumbersome of a municipality. They collect and repair bulky items and play an important role in environmental education. On a daily basis, recycling centers give priority to reducing, reusing and then recycling waste by educating the public about environmentally friendly behaviors. [5] 

The aim of the Recycling Center is to recover, repair and resell objects from the inhabitants of the town of Pau. Every day, 250 to 600 vehicles come to drop off items, and Emmaus manages to recycle more than 70% of them thanks to the 18 workshops that interact with the Recycling-Waste Center (creations, household appliances/luminaires, electronics/computers, scrap metal/metals, carpentry, etc.). The objects are then sold as giant flea markets, under 6000 m² hangars or reused within the village, notably through the creation and eco-construction workshops.


  • Sustainable supply and responsible consumption

The loop is closed between producer and consumer, since La Recyclerie recovers objects from the town of Pau, repairs them and then resells them to the inhabitants of the town of Pau.

In addition to The Recycling-Waste Center, the Emmaüs Village also resells products from fair trade and organic farming from the stores and farms responsible for the surrounding area at its market. An alternative farm workshop has also been set up to use and resell their own organic products, whether in their bar, restaurant or grocery store.

Village creperie and bar
House made of recycled bottles
Barrier built from recycled skis

Project operation

To listen to François present the project, you can watch the video at the very bottom of the article !

There is only one Emmaus alternative village in France, and it has existed for 40 years. Within this community, it is the collective that takes precedence, at all levels of activities (indeed, we are not talking in terms of work, but of activities).

If the companions of Emmaus claim a strong political commitment, it is indeed their commercial activities that keep them alive since they receive absolutely no subsidies from the state. And it is this self-financing that gives them a great deal of freedom. All the work is done by the companions, who come to share their skills in a very horizontal management. The Emmaus spirit encourages anyone in need to come and participate in the life of the Village, without any obligation to stay. A great deal of organisation is therefore required to ensure that it runs smoothly. Today there are between 130 and 140 companions in all in order to perpetuate this “abbeyrist” utopia

The regulatory framework for journeyperson status is a very important benchmark for ensuring that people who come to Emmaus are successfully reintegrated into society and the workplace. This means that anyone can become an actor and project leader within the Village, which represents a real life choice. A choice that François, in particular, made in 2014. The latter relies on the versatility of the companions. While he himself participates in several activities, such as sorting or checkout, he is mainly in charge of tutoring internships, is a radio host for Radio I Feel Good, which hosts the Village every other Saturday, and advises the Village. [3]

The fact that Emmaus is able to take on trainees shows that the state recognises the structure.

François a accepté de prendre une photo avec nous devant le restaurant du Village

The Emmaus Recycling and Waste Management Centre is recognised as a local economic player. The Village thus provides the entire community with this tool that manages the bulky items in the Pau municipality, and this is entirely at their expense, as they receive no aid or subsidies. The Pau agglomeration has benefited from this service for more than ten years.

Collection is Emmaus’ traditional activity. The Recycling-Waste Collection Centre therefore enables the structure to be developed, resources to be upgraded and sales to be made. The Village thus develops its 18 workshops based on what they recycle, knowing that a little bit of everything can be deposited there, such as clothes, household appliances, metals, books, furniture, etc. As far as textiles are concerned, the business is divided into 3 categories according to their quality (cheap, normal, luxury), to be distributed in 3 different stores of the Bric à Brac. Clothes that are not resold are transformed, notably as insulation in construction projects, or are recovered by their partner Filtex in a zero-waste dynamic. As for the furniture, it is destined for the carpentry and design workshops to produce equipment, such as the village chicken coops, for example. The furniture is either restored, to be put on sale, or passes through the hands of Emmaus members to produce highly creative objects, themselves intended for sale or reused within the Village, such as for the beehives, for example. And that’s how between 3,500 and 4,000 customers come to the Bric à Brac every day.

Hand carved beehives in the Village

Between 250 and 600 cars come per day (every day of the week) for about ten people working at the Recycling Center. According to François, who visited La Recyclerie, they receive 5 trucks of about 150m3 in the morning and 5 trucks in the afternoon. A real circuit is set up for the vehicles, with a system of stock and bins in order to list and categorize everything. The recovered items are thus destined either for sale, recycling or tippers. Specialised boxes come to collect what Emmaus cannot do anything about. Green waste, rubble, bulky items, etc. are recycled by the services of the Pau Urban Community and the Village’s partners: Eco Mobilier, Eco Système, Valdelia, etc. [3] In addition, an entire network is set up, which positions Emmaus as an active player in the service economy.

In total, more than 70% of what Emmaus recovers is recycled by their 18 workshops and more than 95% through their partnerships.

The customers and potential customers of the Bric à Brac have access to the rest of the Village, which has developed many activities outside the Recycling and Waste Center. The Emmaus companions thus have the opportunity to make visitors aware of their political, ecological and social struggles through their other centers. For example, in 2008 the Village created their Alternative Farm, an agricultural and educational project aimed at preserving local animal and plant species and promoting peasant agriculture. This market gardening activity also allows them to achieve a certain food autonomy while developing ecological and political awareness. Thus, “the Alternative Farm is fully in line with the sustainable dynamics of the utopian project combining production, well-being, discovery and territorial anchoring with the aim of supplying up to 80% of the food used by the Kitchen workshop“. [3]

The grocery store in the village square sells some of the products from the Farm, such as their bread, honey, or preserves prepared by the Transformation workshop. The store also sells products from small producers in the region to promote local organic products. In this continuity, there is a bar, a restaurant, a bakery and a crêperie using these products. 

All this contributes very largely to the life of the Village, which can be described as very rich culturally speaking. Indeed, since the shooting of the film I Feel Good in 2017, the Village has also developed the concept of their Radio I Feel Good, on which the companions host every other Saturday conferences-debates on themes close to their hearts, with guests such as Pierre Rabhi.

Recycling Center reception
sorting bins
book stock
furniture stock

Sustainable approach

By dropping off your belongings at the Recycling-Waste Disposal Centre in the Emmaus Lescar Pau Village, you are supporting an ecological, economic and social action. “ZERO WASTE” is our goal, to protect the environment, to commit ourselves to leave a clean planet for our children. Together with us, don’t throw away anymore, let’s recycle.” [3]

Coming to drop off and purchase items at the Recycling and Waste Management Centre is entirely in line with an environmental logic. Indeed, it is a question of giving a second life to recovered objects, while taking into consideration that more than 70% of the items are recycled thanks to the 18 workshops within the Village.

It is therefore a gesture that is part of a sustainable supply approach – the objects coming from people living near the Village – and responsible consumption.

The prices of recovered and/or makeover items being extremely interesting and competitive, the Bric-à-Brac is a real bargain basement! And it is this financial compensation that makes it possible to remunerate the companions of the Village.

Finally, dropping off and buying things at the Recycling and Waste Management Centre is a real support for this alternative social project that is the Emmaus Village. It supports the work of the Village’s companions and residents, while allowing visitors to experience their way of life and to make them live a utopia.

Supporting this project is also a way of sharing the Emmaus values of solidarity, unconditional welcome, autonomy through activity and sustainable development. Not receiving any subsidies, it is thanks to their customers, and more broadly, thanks to their interaction with the general public, that the Village is able to carry out its projects in its 18 workshops and welcome those in need.

“By donating your objects that are no longer useful for you but necessary for others, you are participating in a solidarity economy, in recycling, you are supporting the Emmaus Lescar Pau Village’s fight against exclusion, the action of unconditional acceptance of the person and his or her reconstruction through activity.” [3]

Replicability & future perspectives

  • Replicability of a Recycling-Waste Management Facility

At the beginning, according to François, “nobody cared about recycling, but now everybody wants to do it.” The Emmaus Village is therefore keeping a niche for itself and is developing as far as possible to turn it into a market economy within an environmental and social framework.

There are 4 recycling centres in the Pau area and it is the inhabitants of this area who come to give to Emmaus. Seeking to replicate a new recycling centre in this region therefore does not seem useful or even feasible. However, given the success of the Emmaus recycling centre, it is not unreasonable to say that such a project can be replicated elsewhere. There are many recycling centres throughout France: the National Network of Resource Centres (Réseau National des Ressourceries) lists a non-exhaustive list of 51 of them. [6] It is a model that works thanks to their four main activities, which are totally complementary: collecting, valorizing, reselling and raising awareness. [5]

  • Replicability of an ecovillage

“An ecovillage (or eco-village, eco-place, eco-hamlet), is a rural agglomeration, with a perspective of self-sufficiency based on three axes: an alternative economic model, an emphasis on ecology and an active community life. One of the objectives of this concept is to give back a more balanced place to man in harmony with his environment, while respecting the present ecosystems”. [7] 

Today we are seeing a new boom in France in eco-villages, eco-places, or alternative villages. Indeed, there are no less than 40 of them in the non-exhaustive directory of Vie alternative. [8] However, the difficulty in gathering projects under the same “label” comes from the fact that none of the ecovillages function in the same way. Some have a political vocation, while others focus on quality of life or develop artistic creation. [7] It is therefore difficult to give the exact number of functional alternative villages in France in 2020. 

It is no less true that more and more people aspire to return to basics and live in communities in small rural villages. While not all of them necessarily manage to reach their initial goal (one can think of the case of Auroville, an experimental city in India created in the 1970s, which was intended to free itself from money), they nevertheless manage to create harmonious and peaceful communities, often self-sufficient in terms of food, sometimes self-sufficient in terms of energy, but all eco-responsible and built around openness and acceptance.

The problem observed by François is as follows: there is a lot of uncertainty for the future, we have witnessed societal changes after the covid, but in this case, not much has changed in the Emmaus Village. There are even more people who come to visit the Village on a daily basis and give them things at the Recycling Centre.

We can thus see that the population is thinking about how to consume better and live better. Most French society has been hit hard by the health crisis, but not Emmaus. They even had 400 to 600 cars a day at the end of the confinement. All this encourages real reflection on our economy, they live in an alternative way and more and more people are turning to their way of doing things and are starting to take an interest in it.

However, their aim is not to encourage other Emmaus communities to become like them, but simply for visitors to come, immerse themselves in their way of life and make them live a utopia.

We see here, at the scale of a village, the possibility of creating coherence between convictions and way of life. Contrary to what many might think, the Emmaus village does not live in a recluse, outside the world, quite the contrary! It is an integral part of life in the region, with a huge number of people going there every day to visit an antique shop, go to a restaurant or simply to take a walk. The village regularly organizes cultural events, such as conferences-debates animated by the companions of the village, with guests such as Pierre Rabhi, and even hosts an annual music festival since 2007. Internationally renowned artists come to play there, such as Matthieu Chedid, Keziah Jones or Chinese Man for its 2014 edition, which welcomed a record number of festival-goers, with nearly 24,000 people! [9]

The undeniable success of this village shows us that it is possible to live in line with strong ecological, economic and social convictions. It is possible to live this utopia, and as François told us, to make visitors experience it, “that’s what the Emmaus wealth is all about”.

Copyright CirculAgronomie 2020