Dépôts sauvages

People are pigs. That’s what I thought when I saw this pile of waste by the side of the road on my morning run last Sunday. On an otherwise scenic road just next to the woods by the lake. Sadly, examples of littering or illegal dumping are all too common in the fields, forests and country lanes of rural France.

All over France you see warnings against dumping or ‘dépôts sauvages’, sometimes accompanied by signs threatening steep fines. They seem to have little effect. Often you see a sign like this one, just next to a pile of rubbish that somebody couldn’t be bothered to take to the dump.

Sometimes they set it on fire. To help it decompose or to burn the evidence?

One mayor got so annoyed by seeing the recycling bins in his town swamped with junk that he took the initiative to track the owners and ‘return to sender’ as the song goes and this report explains.

In the Île-de-France region outside of Paris is a massive dumping ground that locals have been lobbying to get cleaned up with no result. It’s private land, which means years of legal steps before the authorities will take action. In the meantime, toxic waste like asbestos from building materials leaches into the surrounding soil and groundwater.

It is easy to conclude that people are pigs. They are often lazy, selfish and completely oblivious to the impact of their actions. But we still need to figure out a solution to prevent it or clean it up. So I ask myself: why do people dump their waste rather than take it to the ‘déchetterie’?

The problem in France is that the official dumps require that locals produce proof of residency in order to access them. Professionals like contractors are supposed to pay to dump their waste. Also, you need a car. Not everyone who lives outside of cities can drive. So that old mattress ends up by the recycling bins.

So what’s the answer? Clearly we can’t to put video cameras on each corner or policemen on every country byway. I see two potential solutions.

  1. Find another way of financing the dumps so that anyone can go there, regardless of where they live or whether they are individuals or professionals. Do it with an ‘eco-tax’ on building materials, or via a combined contribution from property owners and the tourist tax that is levied on every rental or hotel stay.
  2. Arrange monthly pickups of larger items with the garbage collection. They do this just across the border in Switzerland, where every second Thursday (or something like that) you are allowed to put large items out for collection at the curb. Hint: if anyone is looking for good recycled stuff, do a quick tour of Swiss city streets before the garbage trucks on special pickup days.

When I checked again the other day, the mess by the side of our road was gone. The local authorities must have removed it right away as they know from painful experience that such dumping tends to multiply faster than a you can say ‘pas de dépôt sauvage’.

What do you think about such ‘wild deposits’?


  1. midihideaways · March 21, 2019

    I really annoys me when people just put their ‘encombrants’ by the rubbish or recycling bins. The bins are emptied by the communaute des communes, but the encombrants have to be deal with by the council workers, who already have more than enough on their plates. In our village the larger items are collected free of charge once a month. All that is necessary is for people to put in a request at the mairie, and bingo – no need to drag the stuff farther than the pavement outside the house. Of course that would mean a little planning and forethought when it comes to buying new stuff and getting rid of old. I think a lot of the depot sauvage is down to ignorance and stupidity AND impatience. At our dechetterie they never seem to ask for proof of residency – one of the guys tried to when it first opened, but soon gave up! 🙂 There’s money in some of the rubbish, especially the metal!

    • MELewis · March 21, 2019

      I often wonder whether those déchetterie guys have any business interests on the side — some valuable junk does get tossed. How nice that you at least get an option from your mairie for pick up of bigger items. Agree the problem is only aggravated by people’s impatience which unfortunately is in abundant supply!

      • midihideaways · March 22, 2019

        I think you may be onto something there about the business interests on the side. A couple of years ago I saw copper sugar boiling pan by the side of the metal container, which was very swiftly squirreled away by one of the guys…

  2. phildange · March 21, 2019

    Why do you protest ? It’s with little manners like this that we know we are not in boring countries like Germany or Sweden . Vive le bordel ! (the French national motto) .
    But, as you seem to be a valiant Helvetophile, have you heard of the numerous Swiss borderers who come to neighbouring French communes to throw their garbage in the wild ? It became a serious problem since Swiss cantons made their garbage evacuation very expensive . Our famously respectful and clean neighbours suddenly turned into average pigs, to quote your appreciation .
    I’m afraid the long proximity with those dirty Frenchmen eventually compromised the purity of the sublime Swiss soul . For their own sake the Swiss should take their country and move far enough to not be infected . If they stay here I’m anxious about their evolution, who knows ? they could turn French !? Gasp !

    • MELewis · March 21, 2019

      Vive le bordel indeed! I actually have felt this a couple of times after spending too long in a civilized country. Nothing a nice jolt of French chaos and insouciance to make one feel right at home after an overdose of orderliness. 😂 I suppose there are pigs everywhere, even among the saintly Swiss and giggle at the idea of garbage refugees coming across the border. But their system at least makes sense: the garbage collectors will only pick up trash in authorized bags that you have to pay 5 CHF. In our area, the commune is installing costly collective bins requiring a) people to take their trash to a central point and b) a badge to open them. Insane!

  3. Taste of France · March 21, 2019

    To take stuff out to the middle of nowhere requires a vehicle, so there’s really no excuse not to go to the dechetterie. Maybe the construction contractors should pay a tax and get free dechetterie access to keep them from dumping…although all the building trades are rife with off-books contractors who don’t pay any taxes at all and homeowners who don’t apply for permits. But it might be easier to nail them if there’s less dumping overall.
    Our village and Carcassonne offer free pickup of “encombrants,” the village once a month and Carcassonne once a week, for people who don’t have cars.
    When people leave stuff by the recycling bins, it’s a pain, but at least it isn’t in the woods. They are taking it someplace where they think it will be hauled off. I assume they don’t have cars to go to the dechetterie.
    And I agree that until the cost is put on the manufacturers and retailers, we won’t see a decrease in excess packaging.

    • MELewis · March 21, 2019

      Agree it’s better by the recycling bins than in the woods and fields! Also agree that manufacturers or vendors should be required to take their packaging and/or older merchandise back and recycle it — especially in the case of a delivery, this would make perfect sense. You too are fortunate in Carcassonne to have the big item pick up. As you say, many of the contractors who work illegally don’t want to pay to dump their trash. Then again, the déchetterie is closed on Sundays which doesn’t help.

  4. acflory · March 21, 2019

    Rubbish is a problem here too. We have only 1 kerbside pickup of large rubbish per year. Wish we had what the Swiss are having!

    • MELewis · March 21, 2019

      I suppose once a year is better than none but I imagine most people can’t wait that long!

      • acflory · March 22, 2019

        Yeah, we have heaps of grubs here in Australia too.

      • MELewis · March 23, 2019

        I’m intrigued: what are grubs?

      • acflory · March 23, 2019

        Oh…? Um, technically a grub is the worm you find in fruit. It’s slightly less derogatory that ‘maggot’.

  5. nessafrance · March 21, 2019

    A subject close to my heart, about which I’ve written several times on my own blog. My own pet hate is people who ignore the distinction between the bin for general waste and that for recycling and just dump n’importe quoi into the latter. The refuse collectors refuse (how’s that for a word with two different meanings?) to take it, necessitating a separate pick-up. Who pays the cost? All of us.

    I’ve also loaded up the back of my car with boxes of glass bottles that people have left by the bins (they have to have a car to do that – we are en pleine campagne) and taken them to the bottle bank, only 2 km distant. I’ve even put up my own notices by the bins informing people where the nearest bottle bank is!

    Our local déchetterie is well organised but, as you say, you have to be a resident of the commune to take your waste there. It would be helpful if they were less exclusive. I suspect, though, that even this wouldn’t solve the problem of fly tipping (the British term for it). And kerbside collections are feasible in more urban areas, but perhaps not so much in large rural areas like ours.

    All these things are worth experimenting with, though. You’re right that we need to find solutions instead of just complaining about it.

    • MELewis · March 21, 2019

      Fly tipping, what a marvelous expression! I’ve heard it before but never really understood what it meant. Tipping out the rubbish on the fly? Also, what is a bottle bank? Around here we just dump the empty glass bottles in the correct recycling bin. When I was a kid, we had returnable pop bottles and in Canada, the beer stores still take back the empties for a deposit return. Whatever works, in my opinion, to make people behave is worth it!

      • nessafrance · March 21, 2019

        I think on the fly is behind the first expression. A bottle bank is just the British expression for a dedicated recycling bin. They used to have deposit return for glass bottles in the UK and in France. In fact, I think the Leclerc supermarket in a local town is giving bons d’achat for plastic bottles recycled. Still not enough of an incentive to stop people flinging their bottles out of their cars onto the grass verge. Every time they do the fauchage around here, these horrors come to light, along with empty beer cans, fast food containers and plastic bags. All of which could be placed in people’s rubbish bins at home. What does it take to get people to be civic minded? I’d better stop there, or I’ll go on all night!

  6. 355101pkl · March 21, 2019

    People are worldwide pigs. It seems it’s not just a problem in the UK. . It does not matter what the local authorities do they will just dump it. i dont know what the answer is . Harsh penalties? or better incentives .. Idealy everything we use should be recyled.There must be more done in that direction and the responsibilities and costs should be put on those who sell the items to deal with it. our local Tesco used to have bins to deposit plastic carrier bags but they just vanished and they went quiet about recycling. when they found it cost them a bit more to recycle than they thought it would.

    • MELewis · March 21, 2019

      I agree we need more options and everything should be recycled. Definitely incentives are more effective than penalties. The best thing is a mindset or culture change but that will take years and, as you say, there will always be pigs the world over.

  7. Caffe · March 21, 2019

    Poor this our Earth, because she will not protect herself. She needs people who would take care of her form, and a human gives her another wild garbage dump instead.

    • MELewis · March 21, 2019

      Mother earth is indeed a much abused and battered wife in human hands. It is sad to see indeed. 😢

  8. Heide · March 21, 2019

    Isn’t illegal dumping infuriating? Hats off to the mayor of Saint-Pôtan for taking a literal hands-on approach, but sadly that doesn’t solve the problems you outlined so brilliantly in your post (transportation, cost, laziness). In my city, there are all sorts of “special pick-up days” for hazardous waste, furniture, electronics, etc. We pay a premium for it in taxes, but it really has made a big difference in the amount of trash lying around. That’s not so easy for smaller communities to organize, though, especially in rural areas. Perhaps 355101pkl is onto something by suggesting that retailers should be required to take back some of the larger items, such as furniture, electronics and tires (with proof of purchase, of course)? No clear answers or easy solutions, alas. Thank you for this thought-provoking post!

    • MELewis · March 21, 2019

      Thank you, Heide! I think a combination of approaches is good. And the best strategy is for each and every one of us to feel responsible, and immediately help clean up anything we can. This year for the first time our village organized a ‘community clean up’ day (shamefully, I was away that weekend.😩 ) But I would start by making the online retailers take back their boxes or provide some way of reusing them. So much unnecessary waste. We already pay an ‘eco tax’ on the purchase of any new appliances, but it is unclear where that money goes — and we still have to pay to have our old ones removed!

      • Heide · March 21, 2019

        “Pay” does seem to be the operative word, doesn’t it? No wonder some people “go sauvage.” But I do think more municipalities will start tackling this problem as the value of recycled raw materials continues to plummet — because a model that’s been bringing in revenue for some cities is now starting to collapse. (Is it just me, or does it seem like we’re reaching environmental tipping points on several fronts?)

  9. George Lewis · March 21, 2019

    We have been destroying our planet for thousands of years. Our garbage dumping is just one symptom of this and it has been going on for a long time. Many people are thoughtless pigs and either out of stupidity or laziness just don’t care. Maybe we should try to fix the garbage disposal problem before we tackle global warming!

    • MELewis · March 21, 2019

      I don’t think global warming can wait. In fact, it is already too late. But the garbage dumping can and must be fixed. That at least should be within the reach of the average human!

  10. Al in France · March 21, 2019

    Here in our local déchetterie (Chef-Boutonne, 79), there aren’t any ID checks. I have to say that I haven’t seen any evidence of dumping waste in the countryside around here…now that I’ve said that I bet I’ll come across a load now! It is truly sad that us humans are such terrible guardians of this beautiful planet. I put my head in my hands and wonder where it will all end. Unfortunately it is a world-wide problem…pigs everywhere!

    • MELewis · March 24, 2019

      Glad to hear that there are places in this country without too much illegal dumping going on (although maybe the déchetterie not requiring ID has something to do with that?)… It would also help if they were open on Sundays when a lot of people do their clearing out! That said, agree we as a species we are certainly not doing justice to our planet earth. Maybe we should put the actual pigs in charge — they might do a better job! 😫

      • Al in France · March 24, 2019

        Sunday opening would be such a bonus as most do their clearing out at the weekend. However, dimanche in France is rather sacrosanct, as you know.

  11. Joanne Sisco · March 23, 2019

    This is not a problem unique to France and it makes me insane when I see garbage dumped. People much smarter than me have been trying to crack the code on this one for a long time, but in the end there will always be those who simply don’t care.

    On the other hand, there is also the good side. Like Switzerland, we do have garbage pickup of large items every 2 weeks. I’m fascinated by the guys who drive around the night before garbage day and pick through the ‘treasures’ left on the curb. However we’ve even had people come to our door and ask permission to take something we’ve left on the curb 🙂 It just goes to prove there are all kinds of animals in the human zoo.

    • MELewis · March 24, 2019

      Your point is well taken. For every example of despicable human behaviour, there is often another that is quite the opposite. We should perhaps glorify the good as much as we decry the bad. Glad to hear you have large item pickup — it really does make sense! Even with a car, it is pretty tough for some of us to get big objects to the dump on our own.

  12. coteetcampagne · March 25, 2019

    In our village ( and thd region in general)there is a regular monthly collection of”big stuff”
    This is a source of fascination to me and much dumped stuff has found it’s way into our project.

    • MELewis · March 26, 2019

      I must look into this; it seems many if not all areas have some big item pickups so I don’t understand why we don’t. You are right to upcycle in your project — one man’s garbage is another man’s gold!

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