“Interesting, isn’t it? “Noelle calls out to us, seeing us inspect the pile of garbage cans that were piling up on Wednesday evening in front of her house, Berthier Blvd., in the 17th arrondissement of the capital. There were leftover meals, cardboard packaging, plastic bottles, all of which were often thrown higgledy-piggledy into the garbage bags, without taking into account the sorting instructions. A microwave was added to the pile, as well as a metal lamp that could have claimed a second life. “And then, have you seen all these boxes? Noelle lingers. I had no idea we were ordering so many things today. »
“It’s time for it to stop,” says Denis, her husband, as the strike of Parisian garbage collectors against the pension reform begins its 19th day this Friday and has been extended until at least Monday. “It becomes dangerous, not only for health but also for traffic”, he lingers. “It also stinks… And then the rats, they’re going to have a field day,” alarmed Nadine, encountered a few streets away in front of an equally imposing heap.
An educational slap on every street corner
These reactions hardly change from those which abound on social networks, each one very often then pointing to their scapegoat, depending on whether they are for or against the pension reform: Anne Hidalgo or Emmanuel Macron. Flora Berlingen, author of several surveys on waste, would like this strike to push us further in introspection, by visually confronting us with the impacts of our consumption. “It’s a bit of the perverse effect of the relatively efficient collection of waste today in France,” she points out. As soon as they are produced, they disappear from our sight. It is then necessary to visit treatment facilities for this waste to realize the mountain that we generate daily. But they are often far from the cities, and the opportunities are rare. »
Since March 5, therefore, the educational slap has been on every street corner of the capital, where 9,500 tonnes have been waiting to be picked up in recent hours. “I had not seen things from this angle, admits Jack, a Scotsman who has lived in Paris for two years and met on the Place de la Bourse. Indeed, these heaps of trash tell a lot about our lifestyles. »
476 kg per year and per Ile-de-France resident
When asked how much waste a French person produces on average each year, his answer, like those of the other Parisians he met, falls short of the mark. “150 kg? “, he tries unconvinced. “100 kg? “, tries Florence a little further. Much more. Ademe estimates at 39 million tonnes the quantity of household and similar waste* (DMA) collected each year in France. That is 580 kg per year and per inhabitant. The Ile-de-France Regional Waste Observatory (Ordif) reduce this volume to 476 kg for Ile-de-France residents, which does not mean that they are more virtuous. “In the DMA, we include occasional waste mainly sent to recycling centers, explains Helder de Oliveira, its director. And the Ile-de-France residents send few. Around 60 kg per year, against 200 on average in France. »
For everyday waste – where the biggest stakes are – the volumes are the same. Trends too, and they’re not very good. “By everyday waste, we mean both waste that is subject to selective collection (paper, cardboard, plastic packaging, glass) and residual household waste, or everything else that ends up mostly incinerated,” begins Helder de Oliveira. Between 1945 and 2000, the volume of this waste per inhabitant almost doubled, “before starting to decline, in particular under the effect of the economic crisis, until around 2015, continues Flore Berlingen. But since then it has increased slightly. In Ile-de-France, we went from 454 kg per inhabitant in 2015 to 476 today.
Pushed by the European Union, France has nevertheless set itself the objective of reducing its household waste by 15% by 2030 compared to 2010.. Declined in Ile-de-France, “this would imply falling to 429 kg in 2025 and 406 in 2030, indicates Helder de Oliveira. We are no longer on this trajectory at all. »
A handful of motivated people vs the unconcerned mass?
For what ? “Good question”, continues the director of Ordif. On the one hand, he has the impression that awareness of the environmental issues linked to our waste is progressing. “We can see it just from the growing number of French people who are committed to the zero waste approach, points out Manon Richert, communication manager of Zero Waste France, an NGO that federates this movement. And concrete alternatives are (re) emerging and progressing. Like buying in bulk or consignment. “But these developments are on too small a scale,” regrets Helder de Oliveira. This is the whole paradox today: on the one hand we have a handful of ultra-motivated people and, on the other, the mass of French people who say they take care of their waste and start sorting, but do not reality not enough. We still cannot resolve the question of motivation, in dense cities in particular. »
The flood of boxes that Noëlle points to is the perfect illustration of this. This is one of the waste streams that has been increasing in recent years, boosted by the boom in deliveries, confirms Helder de Oliveira. “And while we could at least recycle them to make the most of their end of life, we only recover 30% of the deposit. »
“Seeking to reduce means swimming against the tide”
Will this garbage collectors’ strike serve as a trigger? The director of Ordif fears the opposite, “some Parisians stopping all sorting in this complicated period”. “Not everything depends on the consumers either,” insists Manon Richert, recalling that the problem is also and above all structural and regulatory. And if several measures taken recently, in particular in the Agec law of 2020, are going in the right direction, “they remain insufficient, often little controlled and therefore little respected”, she points out. And to cite the example of the obligation for fast food restaurants to serve meals in the dining room in reusable dishes. “We are still in a context where those who engage in a zero waste approach have the impression of swimming against the tide of the rest of society, abounds Flore Berlingen. It should be the reverse. »