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‘Ten recycling bins in Belgium was easy compared to French system’

‘Why is it so difficult to recycle in my village?’ wondered writer Samantha David, so she rang the council to ask them

Taking recycling to eco-points in France is not always possible if you are not mobile Pic: Yuri Turkov / Shutterstock

In theory, I’m pro-ecology, green and groovy, ready to do whatever it takes to save the planet. 

In practice, I look at the powers-that-be and wonder why they make it so difficult?

Let’s take the bins. A lowly but important part of keeping things environmentally-friendly. 

Embarrassing stickers on your bin in Belgium

I got into excellent habits many decades ago in Belgium, where I had 10 different bins: light bulbs, batteries, garden waste, food waste, plastics, metals, paper, glass, unused pills and medicines, and a special brown bag for everything that didn’t fit into any other category.

Luckily, we had a large garage under the house where we kept all these bins, and emptying them was reasonably straightforward. 

The blue and yellow bags went out on Tuesdays, the red and brown on Thursdays, etc. There were collection points for bulbs, batteries and meds.

Apart from the expensive brown bags, all the others were transparent, and if the refuse collectors saw the wrong items in them, they left them outside your house plastered with embarrassing stickers, essentially saying: “The occupants of number 5 have not sorted their rubbish properly!”

So I am trained about this. 

Read more: How do I dispose of out-of-date medicines in France?

Nightmare reduced collection in French village

But here in France, our village is only just getting going on rubbish, and their first step was handing out new bins fitted with microchips so they can charge everyone for emptying their bins.

Next up, they cut the collection schedule from weekly to twice-monthly. 

It’s a nightmare if you forget to put your bin out, because a fortnight later you can’t fit everything in and they won’t take anything that isn’t in the bin.

Driving to nearest eco-point is not eco-friendly

The inspired thinking behind all this is to encourage people to recycle using the ‘eco-points’ installed in every village. 

The trouble is, no one wants a recycling point outside their house or even visible in the village centre, so they are always sited behind the garage, or beside the entrance to the tip, or somewhere equally inconvenient. 

You have to drive to them.

Driving isn’t the greenest of activities, and it makes the car stink. 

But once you find them, there’s more bad news: the recycling bins only have tiny postage holes. So you have to undo the bin bags, take everything out and push each individual item through the hole of the right bin. 

It’s messy, it’s boring, it’s time-consuming, and in the winter it’s really not an attractive activity. 

Why can’t we just lob the stuff into a bin?

‘Do you know the price of a bin lorry?’

There’s another thing too. 

It’s all very well if you have a car, and if you have the physical fitness to do the whole posting-individually thing, but what about the ill, the disabled, the house-bound, the heavily pregnant?

Read more: French homeowners challenge ‘pay per bag’ waste charge

I rang the local bin authorities and asked them. 

“We get charged a fortune for delivering unsorted rubbish to the disposal centre,” she said.

Me: “So why don’t you make it easier to recycle, then?”

Her: “Do you know the price of a bin lorry? The ones that collect different categories of rubbish at the same time are even more expensive. Do you want local rates to go up?”

Related articles

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France moves to introduce glass deposit scheme in supermarkets

Do not be fooled by ‘compostable’ plastic, says French consumer group

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