What does recycling in France involve and how much do the French recycle? We take a look at French recycling at PumpjackPiddlewick

Some of you may not know this, but recycling in France began way back in the 16th century. Oui, they have had some time to hone the system. And I will say today, it is quite the system. With even more focus for the future.

It began with metal recycling, when men in horse drawn carts went about villages, towns and cities collecting scrap metal to sort and melt down for re-use. In fact, we still have people coming around today in our village asking if we have scrap metal we want to be rid of.

In the 1880s Eugène Poubelle, prefect of the Seine (river), put in place an ordinance that all buildings in Paris must install a receptacle to collect refuse. And thus the ‘poubelle’ – what we call a trash can or rubbish bin – was born in France. This morphed into a 3 bin system: one for plastic, paper and metal, one for glass, and one for anything not recyclable. Every village or city in France has this system in place.

France isn’t Perfect

France by no means is perfect when it comes to zero waste. In fact we are kind of middling within Europe. However, it is definitely on the radar, and each year we see improvement in availability of recycling, as well as an increase in areas of recycling.

It’s not just packaging these days, though this is a big part of it. It is also about food waste, garden waste (such as pruning’s), car usage and types of vehicles, and so much more.

I for one am generally impressed. Recycling in France is not just about how much is recycled. It is also how easy they make it to recycle as an average consumer. Easier, to my mind, means more people are going to do it, or are willing to take part.

Recycling in France is as easy as

It certainly is easy in our village. We have these yellow (recyclable) plastic sacs that we put almost all our recyclables in. These are then put outside for collection twice a week. And wonder of wonders are collected by a team of draft horses and (very large) cart.

Most everything that can be recycled goes in there. The exclusions, and I am sure it is just because of weight, are glass, cardboard and magazines. They have their own special bins in the village. In our case at each end of the village. And then there is the clothing collection point in our small supermarket car park.

We bring our own bags to the shops. No plastic or paper bags are given for you to carry your purchases in. Except – fruit and veg in supermarkets have little compostable bags, made from potato starch, for you to put your onions, etc. in. (And sometimes paper, also compostable.) Last year, our village added compost bins. So for those who don’t have a garden or garden composting bin, they can put their food scraps here. And others can benefit from this compost.

And gas bottles. Have you given a thought to gas bottles? Here in France gas bottles are generally used for gas where there is no mains gas available. They are used for stoves/cookers/ovens, and also the odd bbq. There are different sizes, depending on needs. You pay a deposit and get your first bottle. Thereafter, you take the empty bottle to, again, our local little supermarket and they exchange it for a full one. Of course you pay for the gas that comes in it, but the empty bottle is eventually carted away and refilled for use another day.

By Law

And it is not just individual households. Businesses are required by law, since 2016, to recycle all their waste. They can’t send to landfills, rather they must re-use, recycle or donate. This also extends to electronics. Mobile phones, as well as other technology, must be, or become more repairable.

In fact, France has become famous for its law on food waste. Supermarkets and restaurants are not allowed to throw away unsold / unused food products. They must re-use or donate them instead, thus benefiting charities helping the homeless and those struggling financially.

France has become a great proponent of the circular economy, with the goals of eliminating waste, by circulating waste back into a usable commodity.

In my home

So much is recyclable for us we only have a 3 litre (that means tiny) bin to actually throw our rubbish/trash in. I for one just love this.

Now if only the American style garbage disposal in your sink system would be introduced here. Then, honestly, I don’t know what we would throw away in our rubbish bin.


At Pumpjack & Piddlewick we are all about recycling and particularly upcycling. (Read more here.) From re-using or re-purposing items we find in our restoration home to finding vintage items and selling them in Our Shop.

Here’s a taste:

(Simply click on an item to see more.)


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