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Zero waste movement in France 'becoming sexier and sexier'

By Alison Hird

Your average French person generates 390 kilos of household waste per year. Some is recycled but most of it ends up in landfill. Bad news for the environment and with tighter EU regulations on pre-treatment it's also becoming an increasingly expensive process. But a growing number of people in France are taking matters into their own hands and joining the Zero Waste movement. RFI reports from its annual festival in Paris and finds an unusually optimistic bunch of people.

“Of this 400kgs [of waste] per person around 40% gets recycled but the rest gets burnt or goes into landfill,” says Laura Chatel of Zero Waste France “so we’re pretty far from being a zero waste country”.

Nonetheless the 2,000 members of the French chapter of this worldwide movement, born in California in the 1980s, are upbeat about the future.

"We have 5,000 people coming to the festival from all over France," says Chatel, "and the good news is that zero waste is becoming sexier and sexier; citizens are really getting organized to promote this approach so we’re pretty confident for the next years.”

During the three day festival, people learned how to make their own compost (the best example of the so-called circular economy where whatever is produced, sold and consumed is then re-used), cosmetics (including face mask using coffee grains), household cleaning products, sanitary towels and clothes. And repair everything from electronic goods to telephones.

“Now we really need to convince politicians that they need to implement a zero waste solution,” Chatel admits.

And the best way to do that is to get France to see zero waste programmes in action in other European cities.

“In the Contarina district [in Italy] they are already down to 50kgs of waste per inhabitant per year,” says Enzo Favoino, scientific coordinator with Zero Waste Europe “with a mid-term target of going down to 10kgs per inhabitant per year by 2023”.

Several regions in Italy organise separation collections of organic waste. Chatel regrets that separate collection of organics plus composting is still not widespread here in France.

“We need to push [for that] at the local level. In France it’s still really only starting: only four million inhabitants are covered by a separate collection system for organics. Paris is starting to do so but we really need to engage with bigger cities.”

Such as San Francisco. It aims to be a zero waste city by 2020.

“We’re well on the way,” says environmentalist Robert Reed from Recology which manages the city waste programme.

Four years ago 80% of the rubbish was either being recycled, composted or otherwise reused or repurposed. And since then Reed says they’ve made additional progress.

“We’re delivering larger recycling bins that are twice the size of the previous ones and smaller trash bins that are half the size of the previous ones to neighbourhoods across the city.”

Listen to the programme to find out how San Francisco achieved that. Plus tips on making your own washing up liquid from budding zero waster Ghislain Gardarin. And accomplished zero-waster Alicia Pereira shares thoughts on getting more men involved in what is, for the moment, a female-driven movement.

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