Against all-plastic, the fight of researcher Nathalie Gontard

Against all-plastic, the fight of researcher Nathalie Gontard


Nathalie Gontard, at the Agro Montpellier Institute, in September 2020.

A portly ape man struggles, entangled in a plastic film that suffocates him. Defeated, he ends up collapsing heavily on the stage. Next to him, while he lets out his last cries, an elegant blonde woman, frail but determined, punctuates the episode with a singsong voice in which the accent of her native Ardèche pierces: “The plastic in your tray of fries, whether or not it is recycled into a garden chair or a sports bag, will inevitably swell the enormous reservoir of small particles capable of poisoning our bodies and especially those of future generations. » An amazing performance for a research director at the National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and the Environment (Inrae)! “I was tired of saying that recycling plastic is a decoy, with the impression of not being heard. I try to touch the public with emotion”, explains Nathalie Gontard, pioneer of ecological food packaging. She thus performed with two actors at the Bioviv’art festival, in Alénya (Pyrénées-Orientales), in August 2022.

Also read the interview: Anti-waste law: “Recycling 100% of our plastics to infinity is an illusion”

Thirty-five years of research around the development of environmentally friendly food packaging have led her to work on recycling and the risks of plastic particle pollution. Since childhood, she has had an acute ecological awareness, forged in a very simple environment, in the countryside. The only one in her family to obtain the baccalaureate, she continued with a DUT in biological engineering at the University of Montpellier. “I wanted to study quickly and work quickly because my parents had no money. » But Blas Tarodo de la Fuente, professor of food and bioproducts sciences, spots her. It will be his mentor. He enrolled her in the Polytech Montpellier engineering school, then pushed her towards research.

Attracted by the food packaging sector, she joined the Center for International Cooperation in Agronomic Research for Development (CIRAD), where she remained from 1988 to 1998. At that time, she was fascinated, much like everyone else, by the plastic, this flexible, resistant and economical material, so useful for preserving food. But she is already questioning her persistence. What will become of it when used? She, who comes from a rural world, where organic waste is used as fertilizer, perceives the strangeness of a product that does not degrade in the natural environment. His thesis, defended in 1991, also deals with biodegradable plastic films.

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