Lemon Tri: The EDHEC start-up that aims to improve recycling through rewards and incentives

France is one of the largest producers and consumers of bottled water in the world. Yet only one in two bottles gets recycled, or one in five in major cities. Most French people are in the habit of recycling at home, “but when they go out, they just don’t recycle,” commented Augustin Jaclin, EDHEC Alumni (Grande Ecole 2011) and social entrepreneur. Indeed the French have a way to go before catching up with the Swedes, who boast a recycling rate of 85%.

Taking Root

Recycling is getting easier – and more fun – in France, thanks to Lemon Tri (which sounds like “lemon tree” in English, a nod to the 1996 international hit song by the same name). This start‑up aims to improve recycling rates everywhere outside the home by offering incentives. For each used bottle they drop in a bin, participants get a chance to win eco-friendly prizes such as a “green getaway” or fair-trade chocolate. As one user quoted on Lemon Tri’s website said, “using it is fun and we can win something… it’s rewarding.”

“We are hoping to raise environmental awareness and stimulate a positive dialog around recycling, particularly among those who aren’t already doing so or lack motivation,” explained Augustin, co-founder of Lemon Tri. The start‑up further encourages socially responsible behavior by offering charitable incentives, such as planting a tree or donating to an NGO, on behalf of participants.

Before Lemon Tri, this young entrepreneur had experimented in several nature-friendly projects abroad and was a finalist at Columbia University’s NYC Next Idea. Keen to launch a sustainable business with his good friend, he discovered bottle recycling machines in North America and Scandinavia. “We wanted to reproduce the same thing, which didn’t exist in France at the time,” he noted. They brought the machines to France, improved them, and landed their first client in 2011.

“We are hoping to raise environmental awareness and stimulate a positive dialog around recycling.” Augustin Jaclin, EDHEC alumni 2011 and co‑founder of Lemon Tri.

A to Z recycling solution

Some 280 recycling machines are in use across 12 regions in France and Belgium in shopping malls, train stations, on EDHEC campuses, as well as in break rooms at Decathlon, Credit Agricole and Air Liquide. In 2017, Lemon Tri recycling machines are even at Station F! Lemon Tri counts 40% of CAC 40 companies as clients. The start‑up, which also collects cups, paper, glass, cardboard, batteries and light bulbs, sends collected materials to plants for processing, where they get converted back into raw materials.

The circular economy in action, “every empty bottle we collect becomes a bottle again,” touts the company website.

Challenges and success factors

Like any other start‑up, a social business requires capital. Lemon Tri’s machines cost a lot upfront, and revenues come in small monthly increments over time, explained Augustin. It managed to raise capital in multiple rounds from EYE (EDHEC Young Entrepreneurs), banks, business angels and investment funds. Lemon Tri has doubled in size every year since its launch and was named EDHEC Social Business of 2017. Success can be attributed to “working in recycling and the circular economy, which opens a lot of doors for us,” commented the social entrepreneur.

The strong relationship between the two founders, and the richness of a diverse team, are also key. Support provided by EDHEC Young Entrepreneurs as well as backing from The FACE Foundation and the Danone Fund for the Ecosystem have helped Lemon Tri flourish. More than six million empty containers got recycled in France last year thanks to this dynamic start‑up. So we say... look out, Sweden!

Lemon Tri: Milestones


This article was published in Otherwise #5. Did you enjoy reading it? Read the full version and subscribe for free to Otherwise, the EDHEC Business Magazine >>