The French word ‘déchetterie‘ is simply translated as ‘waste reception centre’ and is a rather more elegant term than the mundane ‘tip’ or ‘dump’ that British expats will be more accustomed to in the UK. For recent arrivals in la belle France, who will often be renovating an older property, this facility will become an absolutely essential part of your life. This article sets out to provide the key facts that will help make your local déchetterie a favourite destination rather than a chore.
Gaining Access to Your Local Déchetterie
Unlike most recycling centres in the UK, which are usually operated by the local Council, you cannot just arrive at a French déchetterie with a trailer load of waste and expect to be welcomed with open arms. As you might expect, the recycling of all types of waste is tightly regulated in France and each of the 101 Departments has its own specialist agency for dealing with it.
Using the Dordogne (Department No 24) as an example, the responsible agency is SMD3 (Syndicat Départemental des Déchets de la Dordogne) which controls all its many déchetterie sites. To gain access as a private individual (particulier) it is a fairly simple matter of registering online for a user card. In the Dordogne, for example, use this link to register.
Each of the larger towns in the Dordogne has an SMD3 office and it is also possible to gain your access card here in person, but don’t forget your passport and evidence of residence in the local area, eg. recent utility bills or a Certificat de Domicile from your local Mairie.
Every Department in France will have a similar process and you can ask at your local mairie for details.
Visiting a French Déchetterie
Once you have your precious access card, it’s time to load up the trailer (a vital asset for any property doer-upper) and head for the most convenient local déchetterie. This is unlikely to be more than a 20-minute drive and their locations are clearly mapped online.
On arrival, the route through the facility will be signed and marked on the road. The first hurdle will be to offer your new access card to the supervisor, who will scan it with a hand-held machine and – all being well – you’re in!
The most obvious difference between a typical UK-based recycling facility and a French déchetterie is the layout and ease of access to the various skips. Typically, you will drive up onto a small, man-made hill, which allows level access to the waste skips without having to trudge up and down numerous sets of steps. If your load happens to be rubble, this is a great boon and spares your back the strain of heaving a heavy load to a great height.
Household waste and items to recycle
On your first visit to the déchetterie, it’s well worth having a walk about to familiarise yourself fully with all the categories of recycling available. The main skips will be signposted clearly: furniture – meubles, wood – bois, cardboard – cartons, rubble – gravats, etc. Knowing which items go where will both save you time during future visits and avoid a potential ticking off from the supervisor, who may accuse you of being an eco-terrorist for putting an empty paint can into the general waste skip!
Indeed, you will find that even the least category of waste will have its own dedicated container or bin at the déchetterie. Everything from empty cleaning waste items (déchets de nettoyage) to polystyrene, plasterboard, batteries, bulbs and old engine oil will have its appointed place. While the supervisor cannot help you to unload, he or she will certainly direct you to the right place to get rid of your broken roof tiles or old horse-hair mattress.
Green waste and lawn cuttings
Perhaps the most useful area of the déchetterie for the longer term resident in France is the offload site for green waste (déchets verts). This is usually a large open area with an obvious heap of assorted verdure, ranging from lawn cuttings to small trees. The amount of room for manoeuvre will depend on the disposal cycle, when large vehicles remove the green waste for processing elsewhere.
The déchets verts can become a small mountain if it hasn’t been cleared for a while. However, if you strike it lucky, you might arrive at one of the times in the year when the composted waste is returned for free use by déchetterie customers. This glistening black heap of rich compost never lasts for long, so if you see it then fill every container you can and look forward to huge tomatoes and courgettes!
You and the Déchetterie
As you can see, the déchetterie is likely to form a key part of your lifestyle in France, particularly if you are renovating a property to any extent. It is well worth the minor administrative process of gaining your access card, with which you have unlimited use of this extremely well-organised facility.
If you are on your Mairie’s email list (as you should be) you will receive periodic updates on the opening times for the local déchetteries, which vary frequently with public holidays, maintenance and a plethora of more obscure reasons peculiar to French administration. A wasted trip is always a pain, as it will only have to be repeated.
So, let the déchetterie become an early friend in France and trips there will take on a social nature quite unlike what you may have known before. A la déchetterie!