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Temps de lecture : 5 minutes  

In France, almost a billion tons of waste are produced every year, an amount which increases faster that the GDP. What should be done with it? Dumping or incineration both have their problems Also, the idea is to recycle and reduce waste at the source through a better conception of products.

A kilo a day

In France, each person produces almost a kilo of waste a day: 353 kg/inhabitant per year. That is the equivalent of 28 million tons a year in 2004. (1) As well as this household waste, there are 104 million tons of waste from local authorities and companies and farming and mining waste. In all, 849 million tons of waste are produced in France every year.

At the moment, 49% of council waste in the European Union is dumped, 18% is incinerated and 33% is recycled or used for compost (2) [Débat]

Rubbish dumps

The simplest solution is often to store rubbish in dumps. This is where most rubbish is bound: in the United States (54% in 2005), in Mexico (97% in 2006), in Australia, in China, in the south of Europe as well as in developing countries. (3)

These dumps can reach monstrous proportions. The largest open-air rubbish dump in Europe measures almost 80 hectares and is in Entressen, near Marseille. Every day it receives between 70 and 100 truck loads of rubbish: over1200 tons of various types of waste. (4) (See box and vidéo)

The piling up of millions of tons of waste creates several pollution problems: smells, methane emissions, leachates full of pollutants that seep into soil or flow into rivers. This damages natural spaces, sites, landscapes and soils.

Dumps, especially when they are not well guarded or maintained, also pose health problems for neighbouring populations as well as for those who live on or off these dumps. This is the case in many developing countries. Thus, more than half the children living close to the Dandora dump near Nairobi in Kenya have blood lead levels which exceed accepted international levels or suffer from respiratory diseases (5) [Débat]


Incineration is another solution especially favoured by Japan, Singapore and Taiwan due to a lack of space for storing waste. (6) It often makes energy recovery possible. For example, out of the 13 million tons incinerated in France, 95% are used for energy recovery. (7) A 100 000 ton energy recovery unit produces as much electricity as 20 1MW (megawatt) wind turbines or 40 hectares of photovoltaic panels. (8)

However, incineration has its disadvantages. A report by Friends of the Earth (UK) shows that electricity-producing incinerators generate 33% more CO2 per kWh (kilowatt/hour) than a natural gas power station. (9) Above all, the combustion produces dangerous residue (which contains heavy metals, dioxins, etc.) but in varying proportions according to the incineration technology. They can cause cancer, congenital malformations and reproductive dysfunctions. (10)


Recycling is of course an alternative. It saves energy and materials whilst reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Recycling requires infrastructures and citizen participation and takes place in differing proportions according to each country. In Holland, 80% of council waste that is collected is recycled or used for compost, 60 % in Germany and Austria but only 19 % in France and 9% in Poland and Greece. (11) [Debate]

Composting represents a minute part of waste treatment (18 million tons in European Union countries) whilst it could be used for between 15 and 20% of organic waste produced by households. (12)

Reuse which mainly takes place in developing countries was launched in Quebec in 2000. It is starting to spread in France and Belgium and a Parisian ‘ressourcerie’ opened in June 2007. (13) It is the cheapest option and it causes the least pollution.

Zero waste

It is possible to go even further in waste management. The first option is to minimise the product’s impact on the environment at the source, from its conception. Some very simple steps thus made it possible to reduce the total number of tons of household packaging waste by 5% between 1994 and 2006 in France, whilst consumption, measured by the GDP, increased by 30%. (14)

Even better, New Zealand, the cities of San Francisco and Kamikatsu in Japan, have taken the path to « zero waste »: no more waste dumping and 100 % recycling in 15 to 20 years. (15) To do this, the logic of eco-conception and recycling always has to be taken further. This can be difficult and expensive… (16)

Les déchets dangereux

Hazardous waste is defined by the Basel Convention which also sets out the rules for its elimination. According the French Institute for Environment (IFEN), economic activity in France produced 9.1 million tons of hazardous waste in 2004 (excluding agricultural, forestry and fishing waste) (16) and 400 million tons are produced in the world every year. (17) This waste receives specific treatment: recuperation through regeneration for solvents and used oils, for example combustion in cement works, elimination through incineration or physiochemical treatments. But over half of it is not treated and is stocked, at best, in controlled dumps. Some of it is directly thrown back into the natural environment.


The less restrictive laws in developing countries incite some waste producers to export their waste. Sometimes, they even do so illegally.

This waste is often dumped on uncontrolled sites, on the outskirts of towns and threatens the populations’ health. Thus, about 500 tons of chemical waste were dumped in several areas near Abidjan in 2006. This caused 8 deaths and almost 85 000 people were hospitalised. (18) According to a Greenpeace report, every year about 70 % of the world’s 40 million tons of Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) are sent to China. (19)

But this type of situation is not the sole prerogative of the South. In Italy, the Camora took control of waste treatment and the town of Naples lived in waste for several months of crisis in 2008. [19]

It exists since 1912: the Entressen dump currently covers 80 hectares in an area that is highly exposed to the winds of Saint-Martin-du-Crau, not far from Marseille. 500 000 tons of waste from the Phocaean town and neighbouring towns are dumped there every year.

The dump should have closed in 2002, then in 2006, but continues to function and has even been modernised. Indeed, the incinerator which should have replaced has caused a lot of controversy and its construction was even cancelled in 2005. The situation is therefore evolving very slowly as the local authorities struggle to find a solution that will satisfy citizens.

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