Monday, 29 December 2014

In the Land of Descartes, We Think Therefore We Sort

According to a recent newspaper article, we in Indre et Loire are above average recyclers and rubbish sorters, and we are improving all the time. Each inhabitant currently sorts just under 60 kg of rubbish per year for recycling, and the département puts out 34.5 tonnes of rubbish for recycling in total per year. Of course, quantity of rubbish, even if recycled, isn't something one can exactly be proud of, and there isn't much focus on refusing excess packaging (except for plastic carry bags at the supermarket), but it does show that consciousness is being raised, progress is being made and attitudes changing.

Depositing empty bottles in the bottle bank.
In France 87% of households sort their rubbish to some extent (cf 95% of Australian households), but only 44% do so reliably. 7% never bother to use bottle banks. The recycling programme is overseen by Eco-emballage ('Eco-packaging'), who supervise, organise and support the recycling of waste packaging. Businesses pay a fee which finances the organisation and Eco-emballage manages the sorting and recycling. It's all closely monitored for trends and statistics, so Eco-emballage understands households' behaviour in this field. At the end of the financial period the amount Eco-emballage makes from reselling the recycled material is balanced against the contributions and the savings or profits are themselves recycled, back to the communities who fund Eco-emballage -- a reward for adopting sustainable habits which amounts to nearly €10 a head in Centre.

Our annual issue of rubbish sacks -- yellow for recycling plastic and metal, black for general rubbish.
Glass is by far the biggest component of the recycled material, but plastic and cardboard are on the increase. Metal is not being quite so successfully tackled. Eco-emballage admit that it is largely a matter of space. Households, local authorities and the recycling depots have to have the space to put collection bins for all the different materials or to sort them.

10 Facts about recycling:
  • Bottles and cans do not need their labels removed or to be spotlessly clean to be recycled. They are processed at such a high temperature that any residue is burnt off. Bottles need to have their lids removed. Only wash them to prevent odours or contamination of other recycling materials in your yellow bag. Rinse them at the end of dishwashing rather than rinsing under the tap to be water wise.
  • Paper needs to be dry to be recyclable.
  • Aerosol cannisters and paint tins can be recycled if they are empty and dry (remove plastic caps and nozzles).
  • Aluminium and steel food cans, glass bottles and jars, newspapers, cardboard, toilet paper, tissues, paper serviettes, paper bags, paper towel, copy paper, envelopes and wrapping paper all contain some recycled material and are themselves potentially endlessly recyclable.
  • Recycling aluminium cans uses 95% less energy than smelting aluminium from scratch.
  • Glasswool insulation is made from up to 70% recycled content. Be careful not to include toughened glass (windows, drinking glasses, cookware) in your recycling, as just 15 g per tonne can ruin a batch of recycled glass being spun for glasswool.
  • Garbage trucks have internal divisions so they can collect recycling and general rubbish at the same time. Most sorting of recycling occurs at the depot, but it is important for efficiency and quality of the material that householders know what they can put in their yellow recycling bags. If in doubt, leave it out. Plastic bags, drinking glasses and plastic wrap are not recyclable. Neither is clothing suitable for putting in your yellow bag -- take it to your nearest charity bin.
  • Plastics are the most problematic for the householder to sort. There are 40 different types used today. The symbol of a number in a triangle only identifies the type of plastic, not whether you can recycle it. Most facilities can handle types 1, 2, 3 and 5. Type 1 plastic is PET, used for clear soft drink bottles. Type 2 plastic is HDPE, used for plastic milk bottles, translucent or opaque. Type 3 and 5 plastics are V, PVC and PP and include plastic takeaway containers and icecream containers. Type 4 is LDPE, type 6 is PS and type 7 is all the others (including polystyrene). About 60% of plastic is recycled. Contrary to popular belief, yoghurt containers are recyclable. Frustratingly for the consumer they often don't have a number on them. The rule of thumb with plastics is if it is soft and you can squish it up into a ball it is not recyclable. If it is a rigid container you can recycle.
  • Plastics are granulated and made into wood substitutes. It only takes 30% of the energy to make a plastic product out of recycled materials compared to making new plastic from fossil fuels.
  • Residual photocopier toner and printer inks in cartouches sent for recycling are used as pigments for colouring recycled plastic products.
A la cuisine hier: Pizza dough prepped and put into the cellar temperature fridge for the yeast to slowly perform its miracle on the flour so we can have pizza on Tuesday (plus some dough for the freezer).

Santa Fe Pork and Beans, a sort of cross between Boston baked beans and a curry, which we both liked a lot. I served it with leftover cheesey potatoes.

Pineapple Custard Meringue, a dessert my mother used to make from time to time. I don't use a recipe, but it is more or less like this.


  1. It's good to know we're ahead of everyone else in something! I have found recycling a lot easier since we got one of those cheap Ikea bins to put yellow bag stuff in before it goes out for the bag collection.
    Who empties the yellow bags and sorts the plastic from the cardboard and cans etc?
    It's interesting about bottle recycling. I have seen many a huge pile of bottles in back yards - I suppose lots of people have so much space they don't see the point in taking them to the bottle dump. In Derbyshire bottles go into our recycling wheelie bin along with the other recycling stuff.

  2. Jean: I put the yellow bag in a swing top bin in the kitchen too.
    So far as I know Smictom (who are contracted to collect our household rubbish and run the tips) sorts the contents of the yellow bags, supervised by Eco-emballage. In areas where everyone has a wheelie bin bottles can be collected by the garbage truck, but in areas where household rubbish is put out in plastic sacks bottles are a) too heavy and b) hazardous because of the risk they will smash.

  3. Before we had the Donkey Shed stabilized...
    it was moving towards the bief in one corner...
    and like a lot of other 'dependances'...
    it isn't tied into the main longère...
    we decided to remove any floor tiles.
    On going up the ladder, I...
    Pauline doesn't 'do' ladders...
    discovered M. LaPlace's bottle hoard....
    bags and sacks and boxes of them...
    unfortunately none of the containers were any longer in a fit state to lift the contents...
    he was either a hoarder...
    or a secret drinker???

    At least my hoard# of bottles are all destined for future homebrew...
    with the ones in that grenier, there were hardly any that matched!

    #Thought I'd get that in before herself commented about my hoard!!

  4. Tim: I think these hoards of bottle exist because until the middle of the 20thC literally everyone had a plot of vines and made their own table wine.

  5. We got a chart from SMICTOM at the beginning of this year which showed what they recycle, as opposed to what is recyclable. They don't want yoghurt/cream pots. Tim puts them in anyway, because he thinks they ought to. You can take polythene bags to Auchan - I don't know whether they are recycled or re-used (which is better).

  6. PG: I've got a chart from them too, which is a few years old. It says the same thing, but it doesn't make sense because they clearly show a plastic food tray of the sort which holds something with a softer plastic seal which you rip off as something you can put in the recycling. These are normally made of polypropylene, like yoghurt and and cream pots. What's the difference? I'm with Tim on this one -- so long as your pots say PP or 5 in the triangle I'd chuck 'em in the recycling. These days recycling centres should deal with PP, not like a few years ago, when hardly anyone did.

  7. Our refuse people don't distribute bags. Only our household trash is picked up by the trucks. Everything else goes to the communal bins or the dechetterie (we take our metal scraps there).

  8. A Déscartes joke.
    René goes into a pub with a friend. He is asked if he would like a drink. "I think not!" says he. The great philosopher immediately vanishes. Poof!

  9. Abbe Proust: LOL. Not the first time I've heard that one. Descartes is great for silly jokes. He must be spinning!

    Walt: We take bottles and paper to the communal bins, but everything else is collected by the garbos.

  10. Curbside pickup probably encourages you Indre-et-Loire residents to recycle more. We don't have that service here in the Saint-Aignan area. I'm surprised (or am I?) that you and Tim think you know better what ought to be or can be recycled than the professionals who issue the recommendations. I think it's an Anglo disease to think we always know better how things should work than French people do. LOL.

  11. Ken: I'm not picking on French people. I'm picking on recycling facilities and the political will behind them -- my attitude would be the same in Britain or Australia. And the fact that the SMICTOM instructions are contradictory. Why can polypropylene containers of one sort be recycled but not others? Is it because the quantity of yoghurt pots overwhelms? Seems unlikely if they are prepared to take polypropylene food trays. Is the instruction sheet wrong? If so, which bit? Is it out of date. I actually searched for an email address for SMICTOM yesterday to see if I could find out but no luck.

  12. Here in the Loir-et-Cher, for a few years we weren't supposed to put the plastic bottles that vegetable oil comes in into our recycling, but now they are acceptable. But as in your area, plastic yogurt and cream containers are still not recyclable. Who knows why... The local authorities work in mysterious ways.

  13. Ken: I do wish they'd be less mysterious with their instruction sheets though. It's widely known that the number in the triangle tells you what type of plastic a container is, so why don't they say 'we can recycle such and such numbers'?