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  • Writer's picturepeter grose

Where's yo' bin?

Updated: Sep 15, 2022

Our local commune of Saint-Pierre d'Oléron, quite rightly, nags the hell out of all of us over rubbish. We are told that sorting the rubbish will somehow save the planet. Well, every litle bit helps, I agree. But I wish the commune of communes, which is in charge of the rubbish, would direct their sermons to the oafs who create the mess in the first place.

For the rest of this year we are being given two collections of rubbish a week. Next year, who knows? All our bins have been identified with a silicon chip and and we have been told they will be emptied much less often next year. However for the few months remaining of 2022, on Sunday nights we put out the green-lidded ordure bin, which collects kitchen rubbish like peelings plus anything non-recyclable. Ours is usually pretty empty, consisting of no more than a couple of small black bin bags filled with the above rubbish. My horror story takes place on Tuesday night - Wednesday morning, when the yellow-lidded emballage ("packaging") bin is front and centre.

That's the emballage bin in the picture at the top of this entry, with your humble scribe alongside to give you an idea of its size. The manufacturers claim it holds 125 litres, and that sounds about right to me. 125 litres of what? You might well ask. We are encouraged to dump in the yellow bin: plastic and cardboard containers, empty pots and tins, plastic bags and plastic bottles, some metal, and newspapers and magazines. So no glass bottles, no glass anything, and no 'small metal objects', whatever they may be. But presumably no spoons or forks.

What's not to like? Well, how come an elderly couple with a dog and no live-in children (as in me-and-my-wife-and-the-beagle-Charlie) manage to fill the recycle bin every week. The picture on the left shows this week's effort. Now clearly there are some things, like liquids and powders, that will spill everywhere if they aren't sealed in a container. So I've no quarrel with the plastic bottles. Nor with the plastic ice-cream container. But what about the 4 x 300g containers of Charlie's dog food? Couldn't they be sold without the cardboard outer pack?

Out of sight and buried in the rubbish above left is an even more egregious example of waste and skulduggery. Muesli now comes in a cardboard box with the muesli itself in a wax paper bag inside the box. The wax bag isn't quite full but this melancholy fact is hidden from view by the opaque cardboard outer box. By the way, the wax bag doesn't fill the cardboard box either. So the buyer has been fooled twice. Shame on him or her

When I was a young lad in Sydney Australia we lived on a corner of busy Burns Bay Road, Lane Cove. Diagonally opposite was what would now be called a 'general store', owned and managed by a Mr Tickle. (I kid you not.) Mr Tickle sold things like biscuits and loose tea, which he weighed and tipped into brown paper bags for us to take home. He did much the same with cheese, ham and bacon (all of which he sliced himself) and even the sweets he kept in large highly visible jars on a shelf behind the counter.

It's not as though useless packaging doesn't cost you and me money. A birthday card can cost as much as 5 € (AU$ 7.41, US$ 4.98) in France. Why so much? Well, four-colour printing isn't cheap, especially coupled with good quality paper. Supermarket packaging may well be printed on crap quality cardboard, but it's usually four-colour. Believe me, our muesli box wasn't free to the manufacturer, nor are biscuit packs.

Some of the bigger stores seem to be getting the message. Our local Leclerc supermarket compels its fresh fruit and veg customers to choose their own stuff and bring it in brown paper bags, which they fill themselves with their choice of fresh fruit and veg, to a special counter to be weighed, priced and bar-coded by a Leclerc staffer.

Okay, I know, I know, I know. I've heard the supermarket argument before. Mr Tickle's efforts were labour-intensive, and packaging is a vital sales tool. (Just ask a magazine or book publisher whether the cover matters!) But Leclerc seems to have found a way around the biggest problem, which is the packaging. The traditional argument goes that if we want the economies of scale the supermarkets bring, we have to buy the rubbish along with the biscuits. All I'm asking is how much rubbish do we have to put up with, and is it worth it? Less, and no, I'd say.

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