Here in the Morvan our local council is in love with recycling. It also shows signs of overzealousness where enforcement is concerned.
Much rubbish of course consists of packaging – bottles, tins, milk cartons and so on. These have to be sorted separately by the householder. The buzzword is triage. I first heard of triage in M*A*S*H, with Hawkeye and Trapper deciding which wounded soldier to treat first. Here, triage means sorting your rubbish into three categories: paper and cardboard, glass, and a mixture of plastic bottles, bricks (juice and milk cartons) and tins. We have three plastic crates in the hall. Once a week we take them to the centre de triage which has a monster bin for each category. Clothes, shoes, etc go in another monster bin outside the salle des fêtes.The centre de triage has replaced the parish pump (ours is purely decorative nowadays) as the place to meet one’s neighbours. Every community has one – ours is next to the cemetery at Cervon – as do many popular picnic spots.
We have a pair of official issue brown plastic bins: a big brown wheelie bin and a little one to fit under a sink. Each bears a picture of a squirrel in an apron, together with a list of the kinds of waste suitable for disposal therein, and even a helpline for anyone in doubt. Kitchen waste, used tissues – anything biodegradable goes in the squirrel bin. Last week our big squirrel bin was returned to us unemptied, with an orange label saying its contents did not comply with the rules.
I poked among the melon rinds and coffee grounds and found the foil wrapping from a chocolate bar. I hope the dustmen – les éboueurs – are paid handsomely for ferreting among the garbage and sticking orange labels on offending bins, also that they wash their hands afterwards. Maybe they have official issue gloves – the mind boggles, but then I have an exceptionally boggly mind.
What about household rubbish for the landfill? That goes in a grey wheelie bin, in pinky-beige sacks supplied free of charge by the Mairie (town hall). Any other kind of sack is ostentatiously rejected. What is more, the sacks are translucent to enable the eagle-eyed éboueurs to spot anything that belongs at the déchetterie (see below).
The good news is that waste from the squirrel bins is transformed into rich compost. This is available free of charge at the déchetterie, presided over by the aptly named Monsieur Gentil. Gentil means kind and/or helpful, and Monsieur Gentil is both. He will tell you which container to dump each item in.
Here you will see old fridges and cookers, builder’s waste, dead TVs and computers, and old furniture that I would have been proud to own when I was young and poor. There are containers for old clothes, dead light bulbs and used batteries. The council will, given plenty of warning, cart bulky items away free of charge if you don’t happen to own a big Volvo. So far, so praiseworthy.
But what about enforcement? Well, the local council can impose fines for infringements – if they can catch the culprits. Now read on.
One day in 2013 I had shopping to do in Corbigny, our nearest town, so we used their centre de triage instead of our local one at Cervon. John did the sorting while our little dog Sandie played on the grass nearby. Suddenly there was a yelp – a big dog was bullying Sandie. John dropped the carton he was holding and ran to her aid.
The garbage police at Corbigny found the carton, complete with John’s name and address (no painstaking detective work involved) and photographed it. Then came the threatening letter. Our local mayor at Cervon would have picked up the telephone and asked John for an explanation. Not so his Corbigny counterpart. He sent John a letter enclosing a photograph of the carton, listing the contents in detail (packaging of various kinds, principally polystyrene flakes) and enclosing a copy of the minutes of a council meeting resolving to impose fines on dépôts illicites (fly tippers) and stating that the cost to the council of disposal was 75 euros. 75 euros!
Someone was onto a good thing.
We called the Corbigny Mairie and explained, and were assured all would be well. Silence. We followed up the call with a courteous letter. The reply boiled down to “rules is rules, we want your money”. Our own mayor at Cervon spoke up on our behalf, but the Corbigny bureaucrats were immovable.
Well, they never sent an invoice or any indication of the addressee of the cheque, so we have not yet paid up. Meanwhile we use the centre de triage at Cervon. Sandie died in John’s arms on New Year’s Eve 2013 and we miss her dreadfully. And if I can get the contract to remove small cartons for 75 euros a time I shall donate all receipts to Combat Stress.
Rosy and her husband John run a holiday home named Charity Cottage, to raise money for veterans' charity Combat Stress. There are vacancies for September and October, Visit www.charity-cottage.org.uk for information.
Together with husband John, Rosemary Border Rabson emigrated to the Morvan in rural Burgundy in 2005, where few other Brits have ventured. Rosy's chief preoccupation is Charity Cottage, a holiday cottage which she runs in aid of Combat Stress. The holiday cottage, in their garden at Maré le Bas in the Morvan, has its own website, www.charity-cottage.org.uk which has links to Combat Stress. They are taking bookings for 2014. Every penny goes to Combat Stress www.combatstress.org.uk