I guess the French administration is getting serious about recycling. In Paris they do take it seriously. At my old building, everything went in bins in the basement. To me that’s the gold standard; of course, it’s how we did it in California. In the new one we dump bottles at the corner but the rest goes into bins. It’s not bad. At the house, no, I think the trash guys must love their landfills. When it comes to recycling, they take a definite passive-aggressive attitude toward the whole thing.Some kids came out the other day to give me a new bin and instruct me in the art of trash dumping. I’m old. I can’t help but think of men and women just out of college as kids. So there they were, sweet little true believers, trying hard to be polite as they explained to the old Luddite standing in front of them that the trash was just all wrong. I didn’t have the heart to tell them they were being conned, that their bosses were the Luddites, plus I was so astonished that my French kind of gave out. Really, I’m not the type to con children into believing in Santa Claus but I’m not the type to disabuse them of the notion, either. So with all that going on in my head, I just listened and waited for them to finish.
So if you live out where the trash guys hate the whole idea of recycling and have decided to make it our problem, not theirs, here is the deal. The rule is, you separate everything yourself. That yellow bin, where you see the paper sticking out? No no no, no paper. At all. Apparently that huge bin — huge by French standards — is to be used exclusively for hard plastic, something that almost never shows up at my house. That’s the bin where I am used to putting the cardboard and paper, just like in Paris. That’s when I realized this was true, Gandhi-style resistance to the whole recycling idea. Who knew that it could be used for evil, as well? The fix was definitely in; I know from Paris, that’s the paper bin, too. You can see that it is sized to handle more than the occasional milk bottle. In fact, in Paris we even put small dead appliances in that thing. Out here, you are on your own with the appliances and the paper goes in a little shopping bag — plastic, of couse, handed to me with ceremony and no sense of irony — that the young woman so kindly provided — smaller than the ones I take to the market. And you dump it every single time that tiny little thing fills up? Do they really expect us to do that?
You will see that some of that paper is cardboard. So. The cardboard is collected and kept where, I don’t know, and eventually taken to the dump. I was given a card, also plastic, so they could track my dump visits. I live nowhere near the dump and am not sure I can find it. By this time I was getting a sense of why “bouche-bée,” mouth agape, I think I spelled it right, was taught and emphasized in my French classes. That was me. Actually, as I get used to life in France, that’s me pretty often. Anyway, finally they get to where their bosses tip their hand: the actual trash.
The black bin — new, plastic, to replace the old plastic one that was in like-new condition — is for actual trash. However no actual trash is to be visible. It is all to be put in plastic, yes, more plastic in this supposedly enviro-friendly project, bags. Ah, so now I understood. Paper, bottles, that old toaster, whatever, just put it in a plastic bag and put it in the black bin. Think of it as the “don’t ask, don’t tell” bin.
We actually have been dumping our bottles right along. We have been surprised that the bin is never even close to full. I’m not surprised any more. Our neighbors are using the black bin system. With all the roadblocks the local trash company put in the way of serious recycling, I can see why.