Long before recycling became a household word, a Paris prefect called Eugene Poubelle, introduced three separate containers for household waste – glass and pottery, oyster and mussel shells, and the rest – and had horse-drawn carts empty them. Six years later, his surname entered the Academy dictionary as the word for “dustbin”. Now, over a century later, a growing number of French towns are returning to horse-drawn kerbside waste collection, as a better way to recycle.
For Jean Baptiste, mayor of medieval Peyrestortes, near Perpignan and one of 60 towns now using horses to collect waste, the benefit above all is practical. “You can’t turn a waste collection vehicle around here. We used to block streets to traffic and keep waste in open skips.” He sold off a dustbin lorry and acquired two Breton carthorses instead. Asked whether the changes are saving money, he says: “It’s too early. But money isn’t the only reason. The exhaust smells have gone, the noise has gone, and instead we have the clip-clop of horses’ hooves.”
In Saint Prix, however, in Greater Paris, Mayor Jean-Pierre Enjalbert is certain he is saving money as the novelty of the horses has increased recycling rates. “By using the horse for garden waste collection, we have raised awareness. People are composting more. Incineration used to cost us €107 a tonne, ridiculous for burning wet matter, now we only pay €37 to collect and compost the waste.”