Plus belle to poubelle: My walk through Paris’ rubbish-filled streets

The French capital’s bin collector strike has left the city looking and smelling like a landfill, writes Théophile Larcher

Rubbish stacks up on Paris’ streets
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If there is one positive I can yank from Paris’ stinking, long-running rubbish crisis, it is that it has spawned a clever play on words.

Paris, the city where I was born, is often referred to as l’une des plus belles villes du monde, or “one of the most beautiful cities in the world”.

But some wags on social media, using the French word for rubbish bin (poubelle), have a satirical slant on the phrase.

“Yes,” they say. “Paris really is la poubelle ville du monde.”

The crisis has seen tens of thousands of garbage pile up in the French capital in recent weeks.

Picture credit: Florence Gillier

It’s all because bin collectors have been on strike over France’s controversial pension reforms.

The situation has been easing in recent days after the government began requisitioning striking bin collectors and told them to return to work.

Walking Paris streets on Sunday (March 26) morning, I saw first-hand the magnitude of the task facing those charged with clearing this mess up.

It took the collectors I saw 20 minutes to clear the one-metre-high piles of rubbish stacked around one bin.

They then moved on to the next receptacle, a few metres down the road.

Elsewhere, my friend could barely get out of his front door.

There were so many bags piled on the pavement, many people were instead walking in the road.

Getting into rubbish-surrounded cars seemed like an impossible task.

“I have never seen this in my life,” TikTok star Ludovic Franceschet told me, his views echoing that of what my friends and family in Paris have told me.

“There is no time in Paris’ history that we could trace with such outstanding levels of rubbish everywhere,” added Mr Franceschet, who has been nicknamed a “binfluencer” after publishing videos on the social media platform about his job as a Paris street cleaner.

Read more: Paris street cleaner is TikTok sensation with a serious message

‘Pigsty’, ‘landfill’, ‘repulsive’

Back on my stroll around the city, the only words I could decipher from passing conversations were all about rubbish or its smell.

Dégueulasse!” (disgusting), “répugnant!” (repugnant), “sale” (dirty), and “porcherie” (pigsty) seemed to follow me around the city.

It is something entirely understandable if you walk the streets and breathe in the stench.

To me, it smelt like a landfill and you could sometimes guess what was around the corner by the odour wafting your way.

On the plus side, however, the process is under way to clear the rubbish.

Yet, I am struggling to be hopeful of a quick resolution.

That’s because while unions announced they were suspending the strike on Tuesday, their statement gave few reasons for optimism.

"We need to discuss again with the agents of the waste and sanitation sector of the city of Paris in order to go back to the strike stronger [...] because we have almost no more strikers," said the union CGT FTDNEEA, which brings together refuse collectors, sewer workers and rubbish truck drivers in the capital.

“This is why we are suspending our strike and blockade movement from Wednesday, March 29,” added the union, before insisting industrial action would return.

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