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’?