Zero Waste in France

Zero Waste tomatoes

Zero Waste tomatoes from my friend’s potager.

I have read many blogs about zero waste and find the concept interesting and appealing. However, as I look at our lifestyle and the life of the French, I wonder if it can really work here in France.
I know that in order for any way of life to be effective, it is necessary to commit. France, like any other western country, provides a level of convenience that many people often embrace. When I lived here over ten years ago, I don’t remember there being so many convenience foods in the stores, as many big box stores, and rampant consumerism of today. It may have been there, but my focus was different. I didn’t notice it.

As I think about zero waste, and traveling without leaving such a large footprint, I wonder is it possible. We are interacting with many families. Most people take reusable bags to the store. That is a given. They may own 100 reusable bags, but they will remember to take one to the store. Some families eat only organic food(another trend that was not apparent in France ten years ago). Some families are just shop for their favorite foods and buy what appeals to them in the moment.

It is possible to go grocery shopping and use nothing but your own bags, boxes and bottles, if you are in a big city. You can also do this if you live in a city or town that has an organic store and a market. Not every city or town has a market or an organic store. It seems that EVERYTHING you buy in the store comes in a package. What do you do then? Buy your items and take off all the packaging in the parking lot? You would certainly have zero waste at home! You could eat a raw vegan diet. You will only have compostable items remaining.

However, I am not trying to focus on what others can do. What can Bean and I do if we were to adopt a zero waste lifestyle as we travel? There have been times when we have stayed in rental apartments or hotels. I have gone the route of convenience and purchased ready-made fun French foods. I have bought Bean her favorite Jasmin scented shower gel. I have allowed her to buy silly plastic toys that she forgets about in a few days. I don’t feel guilty about it per se, but I do not want these things to become a habit. Otherwise, I would not feel as if we were living in sync with our values.

As I reflect on what I can do better in the future, I realize that I have not thought big enough. I rejected zero waste living as an idea that is not practical for a traveler or for our little family. However, I still find it appealing. Here are some things that I have discovered we can do.

1. Buy more fruit and vegetables- We always eat fruit and vegetables. Bean calls me the Vegetable Queen. I buy fresh fruit. I cheat and buy frozen vegetables. I buy bagged leafy salad greens. I find it hard to find loose tomatoes; though I try to only buy them in season. I can do better and commit to only buying fresh.

2. Buy bar soap- Shower gel is easy. You buy the bottle never need to worry about finding soggy soap in the shower. You don’t have soap scum after a bath. There is no soap film on the shower door. I could commit to buying natural ingredient bar soap. I might need to clean more, so hold that thought.

3. Reuse paper Bean loves paper just like I did when I was her age. Like most children, she will write or draw on one side and be done with the sheet. She might make a small picture and be finish with it. She will do her homework, not like the outcome, crumple up the paper and start a new sheet. I don’t want to manage paper, so I have let her do this. I could make sure every paper is completely used.

I am not sure what more we could do because we already travel very light. Just as we did when we were in Chicago, we visit the Le Relais boxes when we find them and donate items that we no longer want or need so that others can use them. We find them in most towns, regardless of the size of the community. Even if the town is too small to have its own market, the Relais box is there. I find that to be a positive sign.

I know that minimalism is not about deprivation. I am not about deprivation. I have no interest in missing out on something that brings me joy. I have no plans to exclude events or experiences that I love. I have done that in my past and now I want to live to the fullest. I do, however, want to make sure that I am honoring my core values wherever I am so that I never get caught up in the rat race again. Maybe a waste free lifestyle could offer something I could use. If you are familiar with Zero Waste and have ideas to share, please do. I would like to see ideas for people who travel.

6 Comments on “Zero Waste in France

  1. You so inspire me Candace. You are always trying to make the world a better place and I LOVE you for that – and many other reasons. XOXO Patti

    • Thank you Patti. It is just something that has been on my mind.
      So, you know how it goes…I have to try it out. Can’t imagine
      buying a tart at the boulangerie and taking my own plate though.

  2. If you don’t know them already, Bea Johnson’s Zero Waste blog and book (also on Kindle) has oodles of tips, as does the Paris-to-go blog. They may not all be applicable to you or even outside of cities, but I found a number of things I hadn’t really thought about there, some of which go too far for me, as well.
    I guess the answer in most of France is the markets and small independent and traditional stores rather than the supermarkets… In the supermarkets, although they usually have a bare buy section for nuts/seeds, I find that the average French seem quite happy to go for individually wrapped junk foods, quite unlike the impression the rest of the world seems to have about French food lol!! As I am travelling to Brittany tomorrow, I will be keeping an eye out for the next couple of weeks to see what is on offer with less waste…

    • Enjoy Brittany. I hope you get more sun that we had when we were
      in the northern part of France.
      I have heard of the Paris-to-go blog, which is what got me to
      thinking about what it might REALLY be like behind the scenes
      of such an interesting blog. I am sorry to say I was really
      skeptical. Reading her latest post, I think my feelings were
      correct.
      I will check out the other information and see if anything
      can be applied to our lives without too much disruption.

  3. Love this post–it’s honest. One suggestion re the inevitable waste of homework paper, is a personal white board (or equivalent). I use this a lot with my (not homeschooled boys), especially for rote work such as spelling or math. It travels well and can be used anywhere, and is a low tech item in a world of screens.

    • Thank you so much for this!!! How did I forget about this? I used to
      use one with Bean and don’t know why I stopped. This is the perfect
      idea. I will be looking for a whiteboard this week!

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