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Compulsory composting: What changes for recycling in France in 2024

The Local France
The Local France - [email protected]
Compulsory composting: What changes for recycling in France in 2024
(Photo by Eric PIERMONT / AFP)

From January 1st 2024 the 'compost obligatoire' rules come into effect in France - so what does that actually mean for households?

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In France, an estimated 82kg of compostable waste per person per year goes into the household waste bin - and then it is either burned in an incinerator, or goes to landfill, where it breaks down, emitting greenhouse gas methane.

In the greater Paris region of Île-de-France alone, some 900,000 tonnes of compostable ‘biowaste’ is incinerated, when it could be turned into fertiliser, and sold to farmers, or transformed into gas that could be stored and used to heat homes.

It's for this reason that 'compost obligatoire' (compulsory composting) will come into effect on January 1st.

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However, the phrase is something of a misnomer - maybe even a deliberate one.

There is no requirement for households to compost, or to separate their biowaste from other refuse – the obligation is on local authorities to offer easy-to-use means by which households can compost, if they want to. 

And how will they do that?

That’s up to individual local authorities - and in fact many local authorities already offer composting or biowaste facilities.

Most appear to be setting up drop-off bins in public spaces for people to use, similar to the glass, cardboard and plastic bins that have been in use for many years. This would involve households separating out their biowaste from their general waste, and then putting biowaste in the communal compost bin.

According to the Environmental Code, bio-waste is classed as “non-hazardous biodegradable garden or park waste, food or kitchen waste from households, offices, restaurants, wholesale trade, canteens, caterers or retail outlets, as well as comparable waste from food processing plants”.

It would include things like vegetable peelings, fruit cores and food scraps.

Some towns have set up a door-to-door collection system, with trucks making the rounds of the ‘green’ garbage cans once or twice a week.

At least one, however, has considered supplying plastic bags that households can fill, and then deposit in their household waste bin for sorting at a refuse centre.

But from January, all local authorities must offer some kind of option - you can check with your local mairie or on the website of the préfecture for details in your area, and in fact some local authorities offer free household composting bins or even free worms.

Will it catch on?

That’s the big question. Precedence doesn’t bode well. Ordif (Observatoire régional des déchets en Île-de-France) director Helder de Oliveira told Le Parisien that only 40 percent of paper, cardboard and plastics are recycled, even though the collection and recycling of these materials was introduced 30 years ago.

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“Asking people to sort their food waste from now on is akin to a cultural revolution,” de Oliveira added.

Making the task as simple and convenient as possible would help – by installing enough public bins that people do not have to walk far to deposit their biowaste. Or by providing the means for people to separate their waste at home without having to make a special trip.

One last question. January 1st is a month away … Will local authorities be ready? 

The answer to that is, most probably, no. "Only a third of the population will be in a position to do so by the end of 2023", according to environmentalist Jean-Jacques Fasquel.

The problem is not capacity – there are some 500 specialist businesses in France capable of processing the waste. The problem is collecting and delivering the biowaste for processing. It’s feared that towns and cities simply won’t have the systems in place to gather the refuse in the first place.

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Comments (2)

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Pam GULLY 2023/12/24 21:38
Many of us, in France, have a compost heap in our gardens and keep it going with fruit and vegetable waste, garden trimmings, coffee grounds and more. The new compost bins will not be used by those of us who use our compost to nourish our fruit and vegetable plants. We will seem non-compliant, but the truth is otherwise.
Chris Ley-Wilson 2023/12/01 16:44
"Compulsory" doesn't seem appropriate to the situation described and, whilst a good idea, anything which is to be successfully compulsory needs to be planned from its start to its finish, namely from origin to disposal. Could this be an example of trying to cure the problem rather than avoid the cause?

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