What happens to our garbage?
Our trash cans are overflowing. Each year, a French person generates an average of 434 kg of household waste. But what happens to these mountains of garbage?
For a long time, the choice for waste managers was simple: landfill or incinerate (with or without energy recovery). In short, we got rid of it without worrying too much about the consequences. The situation is changing, however, and here are the details of what happened to our waste in France in 2002.
mass distribution of the waste in France
- 41% of household waste is still buried while this fate should be reserved for ultimate waste.
- 41% are incinerated with energy recovery. In 2004, this recovery would have generated 3340 Gwh of electricity and 814 Ktep of heat (source DGEMP).
- 3% are still incinerated without energy recovery. Part of the slag is valued.
- 8% are subject to material sorting, ie easily recyclable materials are set apart. But our figures do not specify whether these materials are actually recycled.
- Only 6% are composted, while 28% of our bins are compostable waste.
- 1% is valued by anaerobic digestion.
We can therefore see that it takes a long time to put in place truly relevant waste management. Without going back to the 41% of household waste put in landfill, one can wonder about the opening of new incineration centers (see the controversy of Fos-sur-mer). While it is true that today almost all incinerators recover waste energy from an energy point of view, the problems of toxin emissions remain nonetheless. Above all, incineration leads to the disappearance of most of the raw materials and therefore prohibits recycling. This is why incineration should be reserved for waste which absolutely cannot be recovered otherwise: this is far from being the case at present. Yet current French policy still tends to favor incineration.
Only 6% of household waste is composted while putrid waste represents 28% of the weight of our bins. This phenomenon is the consequence of the lack of sorting at the source: it is essential to set up a management of putricible waste separate from that of waste which is not. Such a system would also allow the development of bio-methanization, which is an energy recovery of organic bodies much more "ecological" than the placing of this waste in incinerators.
Finally, 8% of household waste is sorted for recycling. Why is this percentage so low compared to 50% of Germans and Swiss? It is obvious that France is lagging behind in this area.
On the one hand, the sectors are not yet developed and costs remain high, on the other hand the education of the French is not yet complete in this area. Because daily selective sorting is a constraint (but not that terrible): it requires that we know the nature of our waste and that we adopt new habits - not to mention the need to increase the number of bins and to store them.
A political impetus is therefore needed for this project, both at the state level to give strong directives and at the community level to organize the rational management of refuse. As for citizens, they are an essential link because it is by reducing the volume of their bins through reasonable purchases and intelligent sorting that they will make the system economically viable. We must not forget that each of us pays, via our local taxes, for the management of our waste. More waste means higher taxes, it's up to us not to enter this vicious circle!
Find out more
- Recycling paper, cardboard and plastic
- Recycling glass, metal and Tetra-Pack
- 32 answers questions about household waste related to packaging
- Report by G. Miquel to the Parliamentary Office for the Evaluation of Scientific Choices: “Recycling and valuation of household waste”, 1999.