I came back to France recently to visit my family, and as I am more and more engaged in the zero waste movement, I found myself naturally more aware of the waste and the eco conscious practices happening around me. I stayed in the city of Bordeaux and was amazed by all the great achievements accomplished there. Cities but also the country, local businesses and the people everyone seem to be doing its part. It was refreshing to see things from a “different” perspective.
Needless to say that not all is perfect there, far from it. Actually, France’s overshoot day happened in May this year. What it means is that in May, France had used all the resources the earth can provide for the year. If the world was living according to French standards we would need 2.9 planets to be sustainable!
This being said, France is doing pretty “well” compared to the U.S.. Here, the earth overshoot day happened before SPRING!! No, it is not a typo. In 2018, we used all the resources the earth can provide by early/mid March. If the planet was living according to U.S. standards, we would need close to 5 planets to sustain our way of life.
Therefore, I wanted to share my experience there, what I noticed, the improvements they did in the hope we can inspire each other cultures and take the good where it is. I noticed 4 areas in which France has been improving its eco-friendly practices
France Zero Waste Legislative Decisions
Bye bye Single Use Plastic
If you follow the news you might have heard about the legislative action taken in the country to reduce the use of plastic. Actually, back when I was living in France, I had my first job in a store called Leclerc. Back in 2003/2004, they were the First Nation wide store to store giving plastic bags. At the time, mentalities were not as focused on plastic pollution and it was a painful experience to face angry customers who didn’t know how to carry they groceries and didn’t want to purchase reusable bags. However, the store kept their decision and after a few months customers were starting to adapt.
Today the company is still doing great, more stores and big companies followed their lead. Data shows that thanks to voluntary agreements, France decreased drastically from 10.5 billion to 700 million the amount of plastic bags distributed in stores between 2002 to 2010. These improvements (and maybe the decisions from the Paris Agreement..?) led to pass major legislative decisions to ban plastic bags a few years later as well as plastic plates and cutlery.
It was an amazing experience to be back in France and not over worry about not having my veggie bags while I was visiting as all the bags available are compostable now. It is now fully part of the culture to NOT have bags handed to you when doing your groceries. A simple practice that has avoided billions of plastic bags to end up in the ocean. Yay!
Something that stroked me was a sign in the city of Pessac, explaining that they were now turning public lights off from 1 or 2 am to 5 am. A decision taken to reduce the use of unnecessary energy in urban areas. If you don’t know why this is a good thing, I invite you to read this article about energy consumption and also this one about light pollution. You’ll be blown away.
This is a big one. In the U.S, transportation is the largest single source of air pollution. In the last 20 years, air pollution generated by transportation has increased over 30% around the world. At the same time, France transformed its cities and developed less polluting options. In the city of Bordeaux, half of the streets are now pedestrian, bike and/or public transit only roads. If you want to move around the city, the car is becoming the least favorable way to commute. Obviously, we’re not short on the positive consequences this has brought: better health due to more active lifestyles, less stress, less accidents and a greatly improved air quality.
More bikes, more pedestrians and more public transit options
One may argue that turning all cities around the world into public transit, bike and pedestrian friendly places is close to utopia. But I can’t express enough how amazing this transformation has been. Here are the ways I think can be implemented easily by each and everyone of us:
- Reduce our use of cars and maybe have a #CarFreeFriday movement
- Work remotely at least one per week if possible
- Carpooling with a neighbor or a colleague that shares a similar commute (the app Rooster might be a great way to connect with local community)
- Use bikes more often to commuter go to local stores (especially during the weekend)
- Switch to an electric car or a hybrid (Oregon currently has an incentive on EVs)
There are so many good ways to help reduce our transportation footprint and set new standards for the long term!
Classes are popping up in the city to learn how to compost in urban areas, more local community gardens are created. It becomes easier and easier to implement eco-friendly practices. Again, not everything is easy and perfect, but guess what? Humans aren’t perfect. The importance is to focus on the good practices being developed such as this website: Jardinons a l’ecole. (let’s garden at school)
Knowledge is power
I really appreciated the work done on this online platform. They share here FREE teaching modules on how to educate kids about composting, gardening, etc. Teaching sustainable practices to our future citizens has got to be a most effective and sustainable way to preserve our world on the long run, don’t you think?
At first, some of these changes may have not been greeted with the warmest welcome but as always humans adapt to changes. What used to be considered as terrible, “end of the world” directives have become the norm. People in France no longer expect to find plastic bags in their stores, which makes it easier for zero waste and eco-friendly stores to open and offer healthy alternatives.
They (urban folks) no longer think car first. It’s expensive, dangerous, hard to find spots to park… Instead, they invest in small, light easy to carry bikes, folding scooters (which seem to become a trend on the west coast too. Yay!) and affordable ($40-45/month) transit pass. Don’t get me wrong, we’re not all like that.
Culturally, French people don’t like to eat on the go. We like to take the time to appreciate our food and beverages. Therefore, we do not use as much disposable anything as we do here in the US. No coffee cup (expect when passing next to a Starbucks in Paris), we’ll take our expresso at the cafe in a reusable cup. Telling French people about always carrying a coffee container or a bamboo fork is a waste of time.
Give, Take, Recycle
Last but not least, while I was there I heard of a great place that opened recently, the smicval. It’s store where everything is free! Their slogan is: give, take and recycle. People come with things they don’t use, different facilities depending on the type of product and people can in return take what they need. So far the concept has received great responses and is becoming huge! Let me know if you’re interested and curious to know more, I’ll translate their website.
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All this to say that great things are happening all other the world. Once we start to see what small groups of crazy, amazing dreamers can accomplish, it becomes clear that we can save our planet. Let’s combine our ideas, our forces, our resources and build the world we want to see for our kids. I hope you will have find this article useful, don’t hesitate to post your comments or feedback below!