Waste-Disposal in France: How and Where Can I Recycle?
Firstly, to save money-not your personal money directly, but the enormous amount local councils have to spend on treating household waste. The more we recycle and compost, the less we need to send to landfill and the less councils have to charge residents for waste disposal. The costs of collecting, transporting and disposing of non-recycled waste are rocketing.
Secondly, for the benefit of the environment-simply shoving our waste into a hole in the ground and covering it over is no longer tenable.
How to recycle in France?
Depending on your council’s system, you’ll either be asked to put small recyclables in a separate bin bag, often a clear or a yellow one, for collection at the door, or put them in big skips, usually green, at a collection point near your house. Some areas want the items bagged up, in other places you tip all the recylcabes in loose (en vrac).
Most regions don’t ask you to separate out items into different categories, that’s done automatically at the Centre de Tri (recycling centre).
Pop bottles and jars, with lids and caps removed, into green bottle banks. You’ll find collection bins for things like small batteries, lightbulbs, ink cartridges, traditional bottle corks and plastic bottle tops in supermarkets and many council offices, as well as at council-run tips.
Most regions have bins for textiles including shoes, which should be be in plastic bags to stop them getting damp.
You have to take bulky items, such as old washing machines, and toxic waste like old engine oil or tins of paint to your local déchetterie (council tip). These are well-organised, with separate bennes (containers) or areas clearly marked for wood, plasterboard, garden waste, metal, tyres, used oils, electrical appliances etc. The staff are eagle-eyed and soon shout if they see you tipping stuff in willy-nilly, but are also there to help you get it right.
What rubbish can be recycled in France?
Probably a lot more than you think! It depends on the technical capabilities of your local Centre de Tri. Ask at your mairie (town hall), they should have leaflets, and at least one of the councillors will be nominated as a Référent Environnement whose job it is to represent the mairie on waste disposal matters and to report fly tipping etc.
There’s a Guide du Tri online (triercestdonner.fr/guide-du-tri) where you can supposedly type in your commune, and then the name of what you want to dispose of, in French, and it will tell you what to do with it- but it doesn’t always work!
Reliable local information is always the best. In general, all over France these items can go in recycling:
- Newspapers, magazines, paper bags, envelopes and leaflets, whether on plain or glossy paper
- Boxes and cartons-flatten them to save space Cans, tins, aerosols and aluminium containers such as those from takeaways
- Plastic bottles, milk and juice cartons, toothpaste tubes, food tubs and things like yogurt pots
- Pet food sachets
What you do with these items varies throughout France:
- Plastic cups – the disposable sort, shortly to be banned from sale
- Plastic bags
- Blister packs-empty, don’t leave pills in them Aluminium tinfoil (if you remember Blue Peter collecting foil for guide dogs you’re older than you admit to!) Tealights Coffee capsules
- Lids from glass jars Plastic waste such as broken toys, sunloungers, plastic buckets either goes in your general rubbish to the plastic skips at the déchetterie, not in general recycling.
Councils all over are looking at ways to reduce waste disposal costs. At present, most domestic rubbish is charged through the taxe foncière system, as TEOM (taxe d’enlèvement des ordures ménagères). Councils do not have to worry about unpaid taxes, the tax office does that.
The amount of rubbish each household puts in the bin makes no difference to the amount they pay for waste disposal and, in effect, there is no direct financial incentive to reduce rubbish and recycle.
The alternative is a system whereby each user pays according to how much non-recyclable rubbish they get rid of, and most councils are now looking at ways of implementing this in whole or in part, through REOMI (redevance d’enlèvement des ordures ménagères) initiative.
It’s not simple; collecting rubbish is a true public service and important for the health and safety of each and every one of us. If rubbish disposal is seen by the public to be inordinately expensive, would it result in more fly tipping and rubbish thrown out onto the streets?
Options being looked at include a basic flat fee per household, plus a charge for extra sacks or bin-loads, or a fee based 100% on the actual amount of rubbish per household. Either way, do you count the number of sacks/bins or weigh them? How do you do this? If you have a central disposal point, each household could have a pin ID they use to open the skips; or are there door-to-door collections with a weighing or counting device for each bin lorry?
Councils who have already moved towards some form of user pays system advise that it has to be introduced gradually, and educating the public is of prime importance. The capital investment needed in the form of new bins and equipment represents a substantial cost to local councils. The alternative is to do nothing and continue in the old-fashioned way, and pay more for waste disposal long-term. One thing is for sure: wherever you own property in France, you’ll be hearing much more about rubbish disposal in the future.
Do I have to wash my yogurt pots or rinse out tins?
Where do broken glasses and crockery go?
In general non-recyclable rubbish, not in bottle banks.
Old medicines and pills?
Take them in to your local pharmacy
I have to do regular Injections, where do I put the syringes (seringues et déchets de soins piquants)?
Get a sharps box (boite de sécurité)-oither the pharmacy or the déchetterie will have them-and take them back there when full
Pharmacy or the déchetterie
Can I burn old important paper documents like bank statements on a bonfire?
If you want to do that buy a garden incinerator, but don’t do it in dry hot summers and start a major fire!
Looking for more practical information on living in France?
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By Mary Hall
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