Zéro déchet in Versailles

Versailles.  Known to most folks outside of France as the bit of earth upon which stands that gaudy monstrosity of a castle.  However within France it’s also known for being a very conservative community.  Churches and convents abound.  There are two that offer Mass in Latin.  The resident citizens tend to vote on the Right side of the political spectrum.

So should you park your progressive politics and take off your Birkenstocks before entering?

Not at all.  Versailles is a good example of how political labels are deceptive.  This is hands down the greenest city I’ve ever lived in, and that includes my hometown of Seattle.   The public servants in Versailles have done an amazing job of making it so.

There is a municipal recycling program, of course, with weekly home pickup.  And a municipal composting program with home pickup of garden waste that returns to the residents in the form of  free compost.  There is yet another city sponsored program to put backyard chickens in the yards of homeowners.  At ten euros for two healthy, vaccinated gallus gallus domesticus, any resident can afford them.

In the parks, gardens, and green spaces you can see the results of a rethinking by the city gardeners.  There are more drought resistant plants, more mulch, and more trees.  The grass in the green spaces is mowed less often and some areas are left alone to form small meadows.  In the Domaine de Madame Elizabeth (sister to Louis XVI) a flock of sheep trim the grass.

A month or so ago I watched workers tear off the concrete on a traffic divider on one of our busiest streets in order to plant a very pretty, low-growing ground cover.  Last week I visited a relatively new park and shopping area called the Cour des Senteurs which has lovely gardens and a communal compost area for the nearby apartment dwellers.

What is the next frontier?   According to a recent mailing from the city, we now aspire to become a Territoire Zéro Déchet Zéro Gaspillage, known in anglophone world as “zero waste.”  You can download their handy guide here.

This initiative tackles the issue of waste, especially food waste.  It builds on existing programs like recycling, compost, and chickens, but takes it a step further with ecogestes to conserve water, reduce pollution, and minimize purchases and packaging.

Will people actually do any of these things?  Yes, they will for a number of reasons.  Zero waste is the perfect marriage between old and new ways of thinking – between old ideas about frugality and modern ones about “going green.”

Again, political labels are useless here.  Aside from any of the benefits to the environment, just the idea of saving a few bucks is very appealing even for the relatively affluent conservative voter.  I saw this with my grandmother in Seattle many years ago. Grandma became an avid recycler because she was able to trade in her big garbage bin for a smaller one that had lower pickup fees.

Zero waste also values an mentality still possessed by older residents who remember times of relative deprivation.  For someone who has vivid memories of World War II like my mother-in-law, all of this is very familiar and it’s stuff that she has always done:  reuse plastic bags, freeze leftover baguettes, save leftovers for the next meal, and so on.

So, if you want time-honored tips for going zero waste,  talk to your grandparents or anyone you know from that generation.  The act of asking your elders for advice is one of the best, concrete expressions of “family values” that I can think of.  And doing it is not likely to start a fight at the Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner table.

If you are interested in knowing more about zero waste in France, there is a podcast I enjoy called Mouvements Zéro which is in French.  For you anglophones, give  Practical(ly) Zero Waste a listen.

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Born in Seattle, USA. Generation Xer. Lived on 3 continents (North America, Asia and Europe). Country agnostic. Mother of two Frenchlings. MA in International Migration

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