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Ecology

Trash in Paris: sorting and recycling should be taught in schools

Credit : L.R.

The modern Western economic model of society produces a tremendous amount of waste. In France, for example, it reaches 38 million tons per year.

Back in 1884, the Prefect of Paris, Eugène Poubel, decided that waste should be collected and put in special containers, covered with a lid. His memory lives on, as, after the reform, Parisians started calling the trash bins “poubelle,” and the name stuck.

The innovation allowed the city authorities to clean up Paris’s streets and kick off the tradition of sorting waste.

Garbage recycling centers have existed in Paris since 1886. Rag-pickers collected paper, cloth, bones, and cans, while other workers took away iron, pottery, and enamel products. After careful selection, only organic waste remained, which was mixed with the soil and used for the needs of agriculture. The rest of the garbage was incinerated and converted into steam and electricity.

The waste sorting law was adopted in France in 1992, but only at the end of 2002 has it been implemented in all districts of Paris.

Parisians throw garbage in three multi-colored bins. Yellow is for plastic and paper; white is for glass, and green is for household waste. Only a few districts in Paris use a fourth separate brown container for organic waste.

For successful recycling, sorting and collecting waste needs to be done right. The main task of sorting trash is processing it into new resources.

Before 2020, some of the plastic and paper packages were recycled, while others were not. Now, the sorting process has been simplified, and all parts of the box can be thrown into a yellow container.

A simple example is of this issue is cookie packaging, which, most often in France, consists of a cardboard box containing a plastic container covered with a plastic sheet. Until 2020, only cardboard was recycled, but now all packaging is recycled in most districts. Starting in 2023, all plastic packaging will be recycled.

Sorting and recycling garbage has not yet become a widespread habit. Parisians still often wonder how to do it right.

As a result, education remains one of the main tasks of successful recycling. High-tech recycling centers are huge progress, but in order for them to work efficiently, waste must be sorted right at the first stage, in the homes of Parisians.

The problem is – no one knows one hundred percent how to sort and recycle garbage properly.

There are many urban legends on this topic. Is it right to flatten plastic bottles? They take up less space this way, but the recycling center may not accept them. The tinfoil now can be recycled and belongs in the yellow bin. But it must be rolled into a sphere the size of a tennis ball to be correctly processed at the sorting facility.

I still have a lot of questions and a great desire to sort the garbage correctly. I am one of those people who understand that recycling waste into resources is an essential process. Yet, the lack of centralized and accessible information prevents us from doing it correctly and efficiently.

Some Parisians don’t care what happens to the trash – as long it is out of sight. It is hard to blame them. Their position is another consequence of the lack of information and social education.

There are many different initiatives to reduce plastic waste, including reusable containers and bulk shopping to avoid packaging. However, these innovations are most often seen in expensive organic supermarkets and remain the exception to the rule. Most city dwellers buy groceries in regular stores, which means that the amount of garbage in Parisian houses does not decrease.

Not everyone realizes the importance of recycling and waste reduction on their own. Informing the public about waste sorting and recycling is a crucial part of the process. In my opinion, kids should be taught at school how to recycle and why it’s essential, so the new generations know better and can do better than us.