Refuse Rubbish!

How it shouldn’t be

I’m absolutely sick of this. These are this week’s offerings at our local rubbish bins: an armchair, a fridge and a child’s tricycle. That’s not all. In the bin reserved for items for recycling was a wooden box containing a lot of old chicken wire, plant pots and various discarded garden tools. None of those things should be there.

This is yet further evidence of the lack of civic responsibility and general chacun pour soi-isme – everyone for him/herself – that pervades French society these days. No doubt it also pervades other societies but I’m not in a position to pronounce on those. I live in France and have done for 14 years – more than a quarter of my life.

These are not isolated incidents. This is a regular occurrence. And I don’t believe it’s just one person. Boxes of empty bottles are frequently dumped by the bins, despite the fact that there are bottle banks all over the place. I have been reduced to collecting them up myself, taking them to the bottle bank and then leaving a notice by the bin exhorting people not to dump bottles there. In recent months I have also seen sacks of cement, piles of broken tiles, shattered panes of window glass, an old pram and a baby buggy to name just a few.

In most of France, residents don’t have their own refuse bins. You take your rubbish in sealed black plastic sacks to a strategically placed grey-lidded bin that serves a number of households. The corporation dustcart comes and empties it regularly. In rural areas, particularly, the cost of servicing individual households would be prohibitive.

Unfortunately, our bins are at an isolated crossroads which is not overlooked. I suspect people come from miles around to dump there, although ours are not the only bins that are abused like this. I have seen bathroom fittings, including a lavatory, gracing another bin in our commune.

A few years ago, our Communauté des Communes – grouping of town councils – introduced recycling bins with yellow lids. They supplied every household with a heavy-duty bag in which to collect cans, plastic bottles, newspapers and cardboard. You are not supposed to put anything else in the yellow-lidded bins. A van comes round regularly to collect the contents. If they contain prohibited items, the recycling centre will reject the whole load. In that case, the van-drivers refuse (sorry about the pun) to collect the stuff and leave a notice on the bin to that effect. There has to be a special collection later to remove it.

A municipal rubbish tip is about 3km away from us. You have to provide proof of residency to use it but it is clean, tidy and very well-organised. Dedicated skips take different types of waste and they collect used engine oil, chemical receptacles and paint tins, for example. Why can’t people take their stuff there? The energy they expend in dumping it by the rubbish bins could just as well be spent taking it to the proper place.

What really infuriates me is not just the ‘someone else can deal with it’ attitude, nor even the unedifying sight of other people’s detritus, unpleasant though those things are; it’s that we all end up paying for it. Special collections to remove the junk plus those to take away the spoiled recycling items cost money. Who gets to pay for it? Us, the residents, on our local taxes, which increase enough as it is every year without these self-centred individuals adding to them.

We put our recycling items aside, take our bottles to the bottle bank, compost as much organic waste as we can and take everything else that can’t go in the bins to the rubbish tip. I’m not being particularly self-righteous here: it doesn’t require a huge effort; you don’t need a degree in Astrophysics to manage it; and it doesn’t cost anything.

I’m tempted to mount guard by the bins and take photos of the offending individuals. Or set up a vigilante group to run them out of town. Any other suggestions?

Copyright ©A Writer’s Lot in France 2011, all rights reserved


  1. I hate to say this, but the Swiss are real recycling pros – and we don’t have any of this malarcky going on. We have to pay (with stickers) by the bag for rubbish to be taken away from a communal bin. If there is a bag without a sticker, then it will be opened and they will go through it with a fine toothed comb to work out who it belongs to. Woe betide if there are any old envelopes or anything with an address on it….they you get hit with a massive fine…and if you don’t pay, then they cut off your head! Maybe the threats work, or maybe the Swiss are just such a law-abiding race that they don’t think about doing anything they shouldn’t!


    • I’m afraid the French have come late to recycling and it’s difficult to enforce the regulations. My husband is Swedish and, like the Swiss, they have all sorts of rules and fines if you break them.


  2. Same here! Last month the bins we use at the end of our chemin were suddenly full to bursting point of builders’ rubbish and junk that shoud have been taken to the dump. There was no room for our orderly bags of normal kitchen refuse. And of course, it was just at the point when visitors were arriving.
    Our French neighbours were disgusted, and let off steam in a long rant about how badly behaved the French are these days. I’m not convinced that the French are any worse than anyone else. There seems to be a pervasive culture of sefishness everywhere.


    • It seems to be prevalent everywhere. I’m not saying it’s just the French – I’m quite sure that foreign homeowners (Brits, Dutch, whatever) are also equally to blame. Whoever does it, it’s desperately annoying. And we all suffer in various ways in the end. I just can’t understand the self-centredness behind it. I was brought up, like countless others, to dispose of my rubbish in a civilised and environmentally-friendly way. It’s not difficult. People just can’t be bothered, that’s all. If I could get my hands on them….


  3. Hi Vanessa, Sadly it’s all too familiar here as well. And it’s so aggravating. The rules aren’t that hard to follow on what rubbish should go in what bin. We’re in the middle of nowhere too and during the holidays all sorts of stuff gets shoved in our bins from holiday makers or second homers in the area. Most weeks I have to put gloves on and go through our recycling bin to remove all the stuff that shouldn’t be there – bottles, general rubbish, non-recyclable plastic, clothes, broken furniture etc. Our refuse men leave snotty letters otherwise and don’t take the stuff. Sad to say a lot of our gite guests are culprits and resolutely put all the wrong stuff out for recycling despite us explaining the system, putting a sheet about it in the welcome folder in the gite and sticking notices to the bins. Grr!!


    • As you say, it’s not difficult to work out what should go where. It’s just that people can’t be bothered. A lot of it comes from second homers here, too, since it’s more prevalent in the summer. However, it happens in the winter, too, so we can’t just blame the summer visitors. Whoever it is that does it, it’s aggravating!


  4. Similar problems here too in Italy, the Italians haven’t yet embraced recycling, though I do think it’s getting better. I think the local communes have been given extra targets to meet but with the recent ‘austerity measures’ not sure if this is affected. Our municipal dump was shut down recently so there is nowhere to take any bigger items. We don’t see a lot of ‘fly tipping’ here though like you did in the UK. The supermarkets are just introducing a ‘bag for life’ – we’ve been using our Tesco ones since we got here!!


    • With the austerity measures you mention, which are being introduced everywhere, I suspect the problem will get worse. Your local dump closing sounds like bad news.


  5. We have similar problems here in the Var. In addition, in summer when so many of the homes are rented out to holidaymakers, the problem is far worse. People leave their rubbish bags on the side of the road when there any number of bins available to deposit rubbish. The worst was when someone dumped their caravan toilet waste on the side of the road in front of our neighbors house. As a British GP, he complained bitterly to the mairie that this was a health problem. He went up and spread a bag of lime over it to keep the flies and other insects from feasting on it. The stuff lay there for weeks before it was finally cleared up. We also have a route de crete which goes along the mountain edge and is absolutely beautiful. The last time I was up there, a huge area was a dumping site for builders and workmen who have no where else to discard their leftover refuse. It was so sad that such a lovely site was blighted. There is very little sense of pride in community here. It’s quite sad really.


    • Sorry to hear it is the same chez vous. Your neighbour’s experience sounds awful. How disgusting! I don’t know what people have in their heads, sometimes. We too have seen beauty spots defaced by fly tipping and sheer lack of consideration for other people.


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