Inspired by My Zero Waste Life (Ma Vie Zéro Déchets), a French TV programme about a Parisian who tries to eliminate waste from his life, which we screened in our local bar, we decided to try out life in the zero waste lane.
We are Alexis, an Anglo-Scottish (!) eco-warrior, and Blanche, a French primary school teacher. We have no children, which is important because children mean waste, as Donatien Lemaitre (My Zero Waste Life) and his American predecessor Colin Beavan (No Impact Man) both found out. Blanche is also not a shopaholic like Colin’s wife. And we have no pets. And Alexis, as an eco-warrior of 12 years standing, has tested most of the limits of what’s possible in terms of zero impact. So we start with some advantages over the average citizen but hey, what we have done can be done by anybody. And when/if we have children, a dog, a cat and a pig, we’ll find other solutions!
Our first and most important decision was to weigh our waste every week and to keep a record. We decided to give each type of waste a different value as a function of their estimated impact on the environment. We count black bag waste which can’t be recycled as 100% of its weight, municipal mixed recycling as 50% because of the energy involved in trucking it out of Paris, sorting it and turning it into something useful and 0% for our food waste and anything we give away. Our system agreed, we could then happily spend Sunday mornings, when most people are in bed or having breakfast with the kids, weighing our rubbish!
We have many strategies for minimising our rubbish. We try not to buy anything which comes in non-recyclable packaging. We buy as much as possible in bulk i.e. loose without packaging, even wine, coffee and olive oil. (We were delighted to hear this week of a new shop, with branches in the 15th and 17th arrondisements, which sells more in bulk than either our local Biocoop or our local Bio C’est Bon.
We always have reusable bags with us – for bread, for croissants, for potatoes, for everything. Some of our paper baguette bags have been going for more than six months. The lady in our local bakery is always worried we’ll lose our bread on the way home!
Our record for one week for the two of us is 20g of waste. Not bad but we have two biggish problems: 1) There are things which just can’t be recycled or reused (for example, cotton buds!); and 2) an event like the installation of a new kitchen or a dinner party sends our rubbish total into the stratosphere!
We recycle a lot less in Paris than in London. Where Alexis lived in London, there’s a food waste collection and all kinds of plastics are accepted by the municipal recycling system. That’s coming to Paris – there are currently trials going on in the 3rd and 11th arrondisements [I think!]. But recycling is not always the solution – often it’s simply waste by another name. We have massively reduced our waste but we’ve massively increased our recycling, which requires huge amounts of energy to truck, sort and turn into something useful. A recycling system doesn’t encourage people to reduce their consumption – it just encourages them to turn their black bag waste into slightly more useful recycling waste. So the more we live “zero waste” the more we realise that our main problem is recycling.
We have a rule in our home: if we don’t use something at least once a year, we have to give it away. So pretty much every week we have something to give away. In fact, we give so much to our local charity shop that they asked us to become patrons!
We have a wormery which produces liquid fertiliser (worm pee) and compost, which we use for growing food on our balcony. We feed most of our non-cooked food waste to our worms (we never have cooked food waste!) e.g. vegetable peelings, coffee grounds, tea bags. But our worms are a bit picky – they don’t like citrus fruit or acidic foods like onions or garlic. So we take everything the worms don’t like to the Bois de Boulogne park and bury it! We also pick up a few condoms and and syringes as part of the deal!
A word in your shell-like
We are vegetarians for reasons of health, environment and animal welfare, but we’re not vegans – we eat eggs, cheese, milk and above all salted butter! We also eat some shellfish (oysters, mussels, scallops (as long as they are hand-dived not dredged!) because they don’t, as far as scientists currently understand, have central nervous systems i.e. they don’t suffer. And the shells? We throw them in the Seine and send them back to the sea!