Monday, March 29, 2010

One Person’s Trash…..

Like every Monday, today's story was originally written in 2009, during my first year here in Aix en Provence. However, the photo was taken yesterday. I still continue my exploits!

Yesterday, while walking down my little street, I came upon a shopping cart. Yep, the metal basket on wheels found at the grocery store or next to a homeless person sleeping in the park.  I have to say, I was really excited to find it and actually walked around it a few times, trying to figure out how I might be able to get it up the stairs and where I would store it in my apartment.

In fact, a shopping cart all my own is practically like having a car. With my very own shopping cart I could haul all my treasures around without breaking my back. I could ride it down the street just for fun in the middle of the night when no one is looking. I could move from one apartment to the other without having to beg friends for their cars.

However, I stopped, got myself in check, and decided I really didn’t need to finish my first year in a new town wandering around with a shopping cart!  Delana, get a grip!

But in truth, at the time I was on my way to my favorite shopping mall…. le poubelle.  Poubelle, is the French word for garbage can, named after the esteemed and now immortalized Eugène Poubelle, a Parisian official, who decided in the late 19th century that perhaps people should stop dumping their garbage out the window and, instead, deposit it in a container with a lid, where it could be collected on a regular basis. He even went as far as ordering that the trash be sorted so it could be composted more easily. His legislation stated that there must be a can for compostibles, a can for glass and crockery, and a bin for oyster and mussel shells. What a forward thinker!

I’m quite sure the oyster shell bin is no longer a requirement but I wish he had designated a particular bin for “perfectly good things that I just don’t want anymore”. It would make my life so much easier.

The poubelles in Aix en Provence are awesome. We have an extremely large, transient student population.  And here in the heart of the town with tiny streets, no parking and no elevators, moving is a royal pain in the arse (I know of which I speak...I've moved 6 times!). Often, rather than selling their things or giving them to someone else, many "movees" throw perfectly wonderful items in the trash.  I have rescued a microwave, a rug, a vacuum cleaner not only for myself but also one for two of my closest friends, my dishes, all my storage baskets, my desk, my television, a chair,  and other odd and assorted household items. I have now become such an expert, that I know where all the best poubelles are in town and I try to do a tour each day. Saturdays, Sundays and the end of the month rock! If I have friends who live near one of these bins of abundance, I give them a copy of my list of most needed items in hopes that they can fulfill my order. This is how I acquired the microwave and rug.

I would have said that you can find everything but the kitchen sink in the poubelles of Aix en Provence. Except, yesterday I found that...complete with the stove as well! I don't need it but it made a good picture.

I am not alone in this practice here in Aix. I know this because every time I pass on something I want and return later to get it, it has regrettably been snapped up. One evening, a kid actually beat me to the TV set (he was about 21 and could run faster) and then sold it to me 15 minutes later for 15 Euros (although our negotiations started at 40 Euros). I offered him a glass of wine because I admired his entrepreneurial spirit!

Poubelle shopping…or dumpster diving as my children call it, seems to run in the family. Several years ago, my youngest son was doing some research on food waste and found a plethora of information on a movement in the US that encourages “food rescue”. Because of a multitude of laws and regulations, and I think, a fear of lawsuits, stores throw away perfectly good food everyday. My boys have learned which stores pitch the most and the best food, what days they do it, and what time of night it’s safe to rescue these victuals. You see the stores don’t want anyone to take it. And if the boys are caught, there is sometimes trouble. This may sound really disgusting, but the food is packaged, unblemished, dated, and entirely edible.  The kids have saved money for themselves and their friends, and prevented at least some waste. And their mommy is actually quite proud of them.

Tonight wasn’t a prolific dumpster night although I found a very nice basket and a wine bottle holder. In the revealing light of my apartment, I decided I didn’t like the design of the bottle holder and I will return it (and I don’t even need a receipt!) but the basket has settled in quite nicely next to the couch.

This year marks the 125th Anniversary of the invention of the Poubelle.  Thank you Monsieur Poubelle. Your name has given a certain softness to rubbish…  a panache to trash.  So henceforth, dumpster diving will become “ Les Plongées des Poubelles”. And something this elegant should not be accomplished with a grimy, old shopping cart!

Note: For some interesting information on this movement in the US, check out and make sure to watch the videos.



  1. Love it! I was once told that good cooks like their stove as close to the kitchen sink as possible so they can wash their food and get it into the pan so as not to leave a trail of water on the floor or on the counter. You did good!!

  2. This could be another country for all the similarity it bears to Brittany. We see (and chuck out) perfectly good but unwanted stuff at the decheterie and see it still there when we return a few days later.

  3. MAWB: There you are. I keep looking for you and haven't heard a peep from you in weeks. I miss reading. It doesn't matter where my stove and sink are situated...I leave a trail. I leave a trail just moving around a room! I hope all is well.
    FF: I think there are worlds of difference between the north and the south. Culturally and geographically. But Bretagne is just so beautiful!

  4. Another thing we have in common. In my effort toward a sustainable life style, we recycle, have a rainwater catchment system, gray water system, solar panels, retc,
    Recycling for me includes going to garage sales on Sat. I buy very little new!
    I read in the paper today that in American 9 million tons of clothes and shoes end up in the municipal waste stream each year.
    How do you say garage sale in French?

  5. Jackye, that's awesome. I love garage sales. Here, at least in the south which is my only experience, they are called Vide Greniers which means empty the attic, and they're held collectively rather than in people's yards. I just went to one Sunday. Tis the season!

  6. Delana,
    I'm so glad I read your post today. Maybe I can save some money on all my kitchen appliances. Wonder if there are good poubelles in Montpellier?

  7. so now I count 2 things in common. american women who jumped ship and moved to france. and hanging out at the dechetterie ... or bins ... or any other junk place where I can find treasures to save. or restore... t'was my daughter who gave ME the bug! :>)


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