Some things the French don't do well

Post date: 10-Mar-2012 00:06:41

Sometimes it's a bit frustrating being in France and just popping to the local brasserie, and eating a great meal for 15 Euros. Frustrating because you know how difficult it is to get such apparently effortlessly delicious food in London. We all know that the French do food exceptionally well – but there are some things they don't, and one of them is recycling.

Running a supperclub, we produce quite a lot of food waste. I'm not talking about good food going to waste – ask my friends, family and neighbours and particularly my freezer, they get all the left-overs – but since we produce so much from scratch, there are all the by products; the squeezed grated coconut (and shells!) we use to produce coconut milk, the cauliflower leaves from the truffled cauliflower soup, and the skins from the seemingly interminable amount of onions we have to chop. So I'm pleased to say Hackney do provide me my very own nice blue bin, which they even remember to empty occasionally, to take away all my food waste and recycle it.

Fast forward to France, where I often test my recipes on my unsuspecting friends and neighbours. Recycling facilities are pretty poor here – they are far away, you have to take your stuff there, carefully read the instructions and pictures on the bins, and then only an apparently small proportion of your waste is actually recyclable. Not yogurt pots; certainly not food, so that has to go in the regular waste bins (to which you have to take your rubbish, no convenient rubbish collection around here). I am inland and we apparently are more eco-friendly than the glam lot South of me on the Cote D'Azur – where there doesn't seem to be any recycling at all.

So there I was having a bitch about this to my friend Emmanuel, and he showed me an astonishing piece of kit. Here it is.

Yes, apparently, Sorting Your Rubbish Is Easy. It is in Hackney – we dump nearly everything in the green bin and someone else does your sorting for you. Here – hmm, not quite so easy, since people have to do it themselves. Clearly they've been a bit confused (Confused? You WILL be). So it seems the local authorities decided to give them a helping hand. In the form of this little “pamphlet”, which has a magnet on the back to stick on your fridge Great, you can't lose it.

Right, now for a photo of the “interior” of this little folded magnetic thing. This is it, unfolded. Just in case you don't read French, the middle bit says “where do I throw my rubbish?” Good question. “What object? and “what destination?” are the subjects of those little windows. Sounds good so far. But look – there are NINE potential destinations for your rubbish. And they are not in your bin store, not one of them.

Let's see how it works, right here. Can you see? You slide that central section up and down and it tells you where to throw stuff. Isn't that great. Here's an example. Broken Watering Can? it goes to The Dump. Yes, DRIVE to the dump and leave it there. Plastic Plates? in general household waste (no, they don't really like to recycle plastic all that much here). That goes to the dump too, but at least the local council will take it there for you. Apparently they won't take your broken watering can though.

That leads me nicely on to the list of objects. Did you ever see broken watering can on YOUR recycling list? There are almost ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY items on here. And they include other such choice items as X-rays, broken watches, barometers, and a wonderful phrase called “tout venant” which my dictionary does not translate but my friends tell me is "everyday stuff".

That, by the way, goes to The Dump. Mayonnaise has its own entry, as do Post Its.

Let's make it simple, eh. Wouldn't want to confuse anyone. And – oh yes – some of these objects have more than one potential destination. Check out the number of bicolour entries.

Now let's look at colours. Just for your reference, the only ones the council actually recycles at their “recycling points” are yellow, green and blue. Red is The Dump and Grey is “household waste”. I see a lot of red and grey on this list.

Right. Now let's start adding insult to injury. To get this printed, the council spent 300,000 Euros. Yes, that's not a typo. And then they put it through everyone's letter box. Everyone, that is, who didn't have a “no junk mail” sign on their letter box (I do, and so do most people here, as the amount of junk mail in France is about 15x the quantity I received in London before I got that sign on the door). So I didn't get it, and probably half the other people didn't get it either.

Oh, just when you think it can't get worse, it does.

Here's a photo of the 2nd page of this delightful, helpful object. I shan't translate it all, but the title says: “How do you become an Eco Citizen?”

Point #2: Put a “No Junk Mail” sign on your letterbox.

Je reste ma valise. I rest my case.