Every now and then the press gets exercised about your bins. They’re getting smaller, or they’re only being collected once a fortnight, or they’re going to be chipped, or weighed, or they won’t be emptied if you leave it in the wrong place (see image left, which comes from this story)… Nothing upsets Middle England more than being told they throw too much away and need to recycle more.
In France, over the past couple of years, I’ve seen through a little window into the future of rubbish, and I can tell you it’s not pretty.
I’m pretty much on the side of making recycling as easy as possible. All kinds of stuff: into the one bin, and it gets sorted at the recycling centre. It provides jobs and it’s removes the fuss and bother at the consumer end. I’m not keen on the kitchen rubbish bin, however. A lot of people have compost heaps, of course, and good on them, but one thing I don’t want to do is encourage anything in my garden to grow more than it does. I was listening to Gardener’s Question Time on my way to the dump with garden waste the other day, and every question seemed to be about how to get stuff to grow. My question is always, how do I get stuff to stop growing?
Another thing I’m in favour of is abolishing the personal bin. I think there should be neighbourhood bins, the big ones, and you should have to walk a hundred metres or so to dispose of you kitchen and bathroom bin bags. I’m pretty sure most people would be averse to this, but I think it makes sense in terms of cost savings, as opposed to investing in smaller bins, or chips, or any of the other solutions. Of course, the fear is that people are likely to abuse the bigger bins and use them as skips.
In France, we do have a compost heap, or compost area, that is frankly half the size of our garden back in England. What we don’t have in France is a wheely bin. Because we’re only there for a couple of months a year and don’t pay the equivalent of council tax, we have to dispose of our own rubbish on an ad hoc basis.
So here is the future of your rubbish.
Recycling in France is a straightforward DIY affair. You have to drive to one of the many recycling areas, and you can dispose of cardboard, paper, plastic, and bottles. But not tins or aluminium, which is odd. If you want to be properly green, it’s possible to walk about half a kilometre and back to a recycling spot down the road from us.
General household waste, however is more of a problem. Because we have no wheelie bin, we have to find some other way of disposing of it. Last summer, we were able to use a big bin (the kind described above) which was outside the local fire station. There were three of these “red bins” in a row near the recycling, so we’d just drop off a black bag as and when.
But the recent local elections saw a right wing party take over, and one of their first acts (after removing the municipal flowers and other displays) was to remove the big bins. Domage! Now we’ve got a problem. The choices were stark. We could stop in a lay-by with a rubbish bin and dump stuff in there. This single bin gets emptied once a week and fills up very quickly, so we were not the only people doing this. The other choice was to prevail upon relatives and neighbours, but while you might think throwing a bin bag in someone’s wheelie would be fairly harmless, there was a cost to pay.
In France, people pay a council tax and a bin collection fee on top of that. If your bin isn’t emptied one week, you don’t pay the fee. So people are quite canny and only put out their bins when they are full. My brother-in-law generally only has his emptied once a month. So if you throw in a couple of black bags, you’re asking someone else to pay for an extra collection.
It gets worse. If you put your bin out and the lid won’t close, the bin men refuse to empty it. They say this is because, clearly, you should have put it out the week before, and paid for the collection then. Now you’re going to have to wait an extra week.
It gets even worse. When you do put your wheelie bin out, your sneaky neighbours might sneak their own rubbish into it, in order to avoid paying for their own collection. If your neighbours throw a bag in your bin and the lid won’t then close… they refuse to empty it. So now your neighbour has fucked you up good.
In the city of Belfort, the big bins all have locks on them. So even if you just want to dispose of chewing gum responsibly or a sweet wrapper or something, it’s hard to find a bin on the street that isn’t locked.
Welcome to the future.