How does recycling work in France?

We are all encouraged to go greener, but making sense of what can and cannot be recycled is not always obvious

15 November 2021
By Liv Rowland

In France, the local Communautés des Communes or the Services Municipaux is typically in charge of recycling and household waste.

Access to facilities for waste recycling is variable around the country, and different local authorities may do things slightly differently. 

It also depends on the type of building in which you live. Blocks of flats will usually have a room with bins, one for general waste and one for recycling, while private homes will be provided with separate bins.

However, there are many standardised features to waste disposal and recycling in France, from the symbols used on packaging to the colours used for bins.

The French government has recently launched a new website to help people in France find the best place to recycle household items, including clothes, batteries, plastic, and white goods. 

Using your recycling bin at home

In many parts of France, residents are supplied with at least one bin for recycling – and making use of it requires you to keep your recycling waste separate from the rest. 

In some cities, councils provide robust, reusable bags for this so as to avoid having to take up space with a separate bin. These bags usually allow for a mixture of items. 

You may also be provided with separate bins for glass which are usually green. Blue bins are for cardboard and paper only. 

Ordinary bins for non-recyclable waste are usually grey. 

What can I put in my yellow recycling bin in France?

Where there is a mixed recycling bin for your household waste it will typically have a yellow top. 

The yellow bin will probably be marked with what contents can be placed in it, but this will typically include:

  • All packaging made from paper, cardboard, steel, aluminium, including items like processed food trays, lids, milk or juice cartons, cans and aerosols
  • Plastic bottles, eg. for drinks or shampoo
  • Pizza or cereal boxes 
  • Egg boxes
  • Books, magazines and paper of all kinds 
  • Aluminium foil and coffee capsules 
  • Medicine packaging (but not leftover medicine) 

What am I not allowed to put in my yellow bin?

Generally, you should not put the following in the yellow bin. This list may not be exhaustive depending on your area.

  • Objects made from glass (such as a broken mirror, or glass plate)
  • Large cardboard boxes that take up too much space (unless you tear them up)
  • Garden waste
  • Electronics 
  • Dangerous or toxic items 

Glass bottles and jars should go in a separate bin for glass, which, as mentioned above, will ordinarily have a green lid. If you do not have a green bin, you can take your glass to a déchetterie (see below) or to a nearby bottle bank. 

Garden waste should also be taken to the déchetterie. Some towns or villages may have a collections service for garden waste. Bear in mind that it is illegal to burn waste on your property.

For electronics like mobile phones and computers, you can take them to the déchetterie or to an electronics collection point.

Alternatively, you can return them to the shop where you originally bought them or donate them to a charity organisation. 

Any leftover medicines can be taken back to the pharmacy even if you have already opened them or they have expired. They will be burnt to create renewable energy. 

Should I wash any items I put out for recycling? 

It is not necessary to thoroughly wash the items you put out for recycling, but they should be empty, and you should leave them loose, not in small bags or with items pushed inside other ones. 

It is also not necessary to worry about staples in magazines or sticky tape on wrapping paper, spirals on notepads or plastic windows on envelopes.

Understand recycling labels on French products 

Contrary to what is often assumed, the symbol of le point vert does not indicate something is recyclable, but that the maker has certain eco-friendly policies.

Instead, ‘Le Triman’ figure with three arrows (based on le tri – sorting your rubbish for recycling) is the main logo indicating that a product is suitable for recycling. 

A green symbol of three arrows in a circle is another (older) logo meaning the same (if it has a figure in the middle this is the percentage of recyclable material that the product contains).

A crossed bin means an item should not be thrown in the bin but taken to a specialised container at the tip.

If in doubt, visit lesbonneshabitudes.gouv.fr where you can search for advice on how to throw away your item. 

Taking a trip to la déchetterie

If in doubt, and especially for large or hazardous items, a council tip a déchetterie is your best bet. 

There should be a variety of different containers at a tip according to the type of rubbish, for example:

  • Large items of domestic equipment or furniture should be taken here (however councils often also have a service to collect from outside homes, usually reserved by telephoning in advance)
  • DIY waste
  • ‘Dangerous’ items, such as paint, glue, white-spirit, batteries, chemicals
  • Green waste like grass and hedge cuttings

To dispose of old clothing that is still usable there are many local drop-off points which you can search at refashion.fr.

Tyres cannot be thrown away at the déchetterie – you can return them to a garage, which will take them off you free of charge. 

For batteries, there are often collection points at large supermarkets or electronics shops.

What about disposable masks?

Surgical masks should be thrown away with general household waste. The government even recommends having a dedicated bin at home for masks, gloves and tissues that can be closed. When the bag is full, wait 24 hours before putting it together with your other rubbish.

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