Low impact eating and zero waste drinking in France

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Zero waste food shopping

Fruits and vegetables

Buying non packaged fruits and vegetables is fairly easy in France as, even in supermarkets, most produces are selected and weighted by consumers. Organic products are also fairly common these days and can even be found in supermarkets, although we recommend you to buy from cooperatives, local farmers and AMAPs (farmers associations that are working on a subscription model for you to get a box of fresh products on a regular basis), this interactive map shows you where to find these. You can also check if any markets are happening in your area.

To lower your impact on the environment, we recommend you do go for local and seasonal fruits and veggies and to avoid as much as possible imported products.

Bread

French bakery don’t usually wrap or cut bread in advance or pack pastries so you can bring your own containers and explain to them you wish to use your bags instead of the regular packaging.

Meat and dairy

In order to reduce your impact on the environment, it is better to avoid meat or dairy as well as fish or at least cut down your consumption.

Buying less but better quality meat or fish can do its part so do look for local butchers, fishmongers and cheesemongers and ask them about the origin of the products you are buying. It is also easier in these instances to bring your own containers and avoid pre-cut and packaged food.

Other food products

Bulk selling is getting more frequent and this map identifies bulk stores or stores that are allowing you to bring your own containers or offer reusable packaging.

 

Eating out

Vegetarian or vegan restaurants

As you probable know, stopping to consume or reducing your consumption of animal based products especially red meat, is a good way to lessen your carbon footprint. The application Happycow, helps you to identify vegan or vegetarian restaurants in your area. There is also a good selection of vegan, vegetarian or organic restaurants on Voyag’ir website.

Tips for zero waste take-outs in France

When eating out, we recommend you to always carry with you your zero waste kit with your flask, a container, a bag, a straw and cutlery to avoid single use items as much as possible.

Make sure you explain to the person preparing your meal what you are trying to do and stay close when they prepare your meal or drink to intercept a straw or else being placed out of habits in your drink etc.

Some start-ups are looking at developing returnable packaging for take-out places in France. It is early days, but you can already check which places Reconcil (in Paris area for now) and En boîte le plat (in Toulouse area for now) have already partnered with.

 

Drinking zero waste

Tap water can be drunk in France unless specified otherwise, so you can easily refill your flask. You can check on this website the results of the water analysis in your area. You may still want to add a filter to improve further the quality of the water you are drinking depending on the area you stay in. There are different types of filters that will get rid of different contaminants such as activated charcoal filters.

Low impact lifestyle in France

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What to ask yourself before purchasing something

Before buying any sort of products, you may want to ask yourself a few questions:
1) Do I need it?
2) Do I already have something similar, can I borrow it or buy it second hand?
3) Do I really like it? As Derek Sivers says, “if it isn’t a hell yes, it is a hell no”
4) Will I get a lot of uses out of this item? If a food purchase, am I going to consume it within the next week or before its use-by date?
5) Am I buying this item as impulse or is it a thoughtful decision?

After having gone through all these questions, if you still decide to proceed with your purchase, there is also another important question, you may want to check: Has this item being made in conditions that are in line with my values and is produced locally?

Checking the ethics of the brands you are buying to ensure you are not supporting big corporations taking part in destroying the environment etc. is also key in the purchase decision.  The French application i-boycott helps you to better understand this aspect, suggesting you alternatives and therefore helping you to choose the products you buy knowingly.

 

Repairing or restyling objects

Giving your belongings a second life by repairing or restyling them instead of throwing them away, is a good way to save a lot of resources.

There are many DIY out there to help you do so. So use that rainy Sunday afternoon to mend a piece of clothing or transform furniture etc.

You can also go to a repair café or a fablab in your area to get some help from volunteers and borrow the tools needed to repair your belongings.

If you do not feel confident to do so yourself, you can find a specialist nearby on Annuaire réparation or Murfy. For bikes and such, you can check Cyclofix. For more complex items like high tech products, you can either bring them to a specialist, such as Docteur it, or if you feel more adventurous and want to repair it yourself, check SOSav for tutorials on how to repair high tech equipments and they also have 1:1 help (this website is in French though), or have a look into How to repair or I fix it for English guides.

 

Renting, borrowing or sharing objects

Fashion

If you want to borrow a beautiful dress or accessory for an event, why not renting it instead of buying something new you will only use once. This is what 1 robe pour 1 soir allows you to do.

Baby clothes and accessories

If you have young kids or babies, you may want to check My baby loc to avoid buying new items and renting them from other families instead. If your baby is growing older and you don’t know what to do of the old clothes or childcare articles, you can also use this website and post an add to have someone else renting them from you.

Books

Public libraries are well developed in France, so you can always borrow books from there instead of buying them.

The association Les boîtes à partage focused on Lyon area is referencing all the places where people are making available objects to be borrowed.

You can also register your books on Ton book too to share them with people in your area and also get access to the books of community if you subscribe.

 

Buying or selling second-hand

In general, when you have an item you do not have use for anymore, consider selling it instead of letting it sit in your cupboards or worst dumping it in waste reception centres.

High tech products

Electronic products are using a lot of resources to be made. As example, 1 smartphone takes around 183kg and 1 computer 836kg. So think about buying a repurposed or second-hand equipment instead of something new to avoid wasting resources. For that, we recommend you to check BackmarketRebuy for all kinds of high tech products,  Ecodair, AFB or Commown specifically for computers and Envirofone for second-hand smartphones.

When changing for a new high tech equipment, look into selling your current one even if it is broken. Indeed, professionals might be able to repair it or at least spare parts could be reused for repairs. To do so, check Rebuy for all kinds of high tech products, Ecodair specifically for computers and Envirofone and Backmarket to sell your smartphone.

Fashion

The fashion industry is one of the most harmful for the environment so buying vintage clothing and repurposing old clothes is the way to go! You can either find a thrift store, a second-hand market or an Emmaüs store in your area. Emmaüs who also happen to have now an eshop in case you didn’t want to go to one of their stores directly but they won’t have everything listed.

You can also check one of the following websites to find second-hand clothes and accessories: Vinted, which has a wide range of clothing and accessories, and Vide dressing for high-end and luxury brand items.

Your unloved clothes may make somebody else really happy. So, think about dropping the clothes that are sitting in your cupboards to your local thrift store, register to take part in a second-hand market or bring them to your local Emmaüs store.

If you find it easier, you can also sell them on Vinted or Vide dressing.

Books, CDs and DVDs

If you want to buy or sell old books, CDs and DVDs, you check for local second-hand booksellers in your area or Gibert, the French reference for second-hand books in France.

Others

For clothing and any other random items, you can look for nearby second-hand markets as well as your local Emmaüs store or the Emmaüs eshop . You will be sure to find treasures for a ridiculously low price.

Decathlon has also created a specialist selling platform for second-hand sports, travel and outdoor products.

Finally, anything random you may look for or wish to sell, including all the above, you will probably be able to do so on ebay or Le bon coin. But be careful of scams on the later. Our recommendation however, is to sell on specialist platforms to avoid your ad ending up being lost in the mass.

 

Donating objects

If you can’t rent, sell or repair your items, think about donating them instead. Indeed, if you just dispose of them at waste collection centres, these will most likely end up staying in the landfill while they could have been reused or repurposed.

Books, CDs and DVDs

You can also drop some books in one of the Les boîtes à partage. These types of boxes are also available available in other areas in France but are not necessarily referenced. So just keep your eyes open for them.

Recycle livre also helps you to find the nearest collection points for your old books, CDs and DVDs.

Local libraries as well as Books without borders may also accept your old books under certain conditions.

Fashion and other textiles

Textiles and shoes that are clean, dry and non stained by paint (even if they are ripped or have other types of stains) can be dropped off at collection points to be recycled. You can find your closest collection bin on La fibre du tri or Le relais.

Others

If you want to get rid of something you don’t like anymore, including all of the above, provided it is in a fairly good condition, you can donate it to Emmaus. There are many stores all over France you can drop it at (as the website is only in French, you can check this guide that helps you to understand how to navigate it).

 

Buying presents or souvenirs

When going abroad, you may feel like bringing back something from your trip as a souvenir for yourself or loved ones. Instead, consider sign-up for experiences while abroad like a local cooking or dance lesson for example. This will allow you to re-use those skills when back home. For your loved ones, what better gesture than a postcard as a way to show they your affection.

If you really want to bring back something, look into bringing back food (when authorised by customs) or supporting local artisans and businesses versus buying cheap Eiffel Towers or fridge magnets made in China.

Beware of some vendors on crafts markets that will pass items made outside of France as regional craft. Another example, quite popular on market in France are the so called “Savon de Marseille” made from palm oil…

Besides, if you wish to buy a present for a host or someone that helped you along the way, what about always keeping with you zero waste items that could be easily be shared as gifts such as a reusable straw or bamboo toothbrush etc.? It could be a great way to introduce them to the zero waste lifestyle and have an interesting discussion on this topic. I would also recommend you to offer to do the food shopping and cook a meal for your hosts if you are staying at someone’s place. Sharing a bit of your culture through its food is a great gift!

Eco-friendly transportation in France

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Whether you are looking for a way to travel through France in a more eco-friendly way or simply to find alternative to commute to work with a carbon footprint, this guide covers the different options available to you.

Bicycle

Cycling is quite popular in France and most cities are bicycle friendly with dedicated areas for cyclists (“pistes cyclables”), indicated by green markings on the ground.

If you wish to travel longer distance by bicycle, you can find some really lovely tracks (“voies vertes”) that will allow you to discover French countryside.

Public transports

Public transports are well developed France, and remote areas even are connected by public buses and local trains (even if those are not always very frequent).

For buses, which are often run by local transport companies, Google Maps may not always be indicating you these local options so you may have to look for local bus companies.

Long distance buses

While not as good as trains in terms of carbon footprint, buses are also a good option to consider instead of an individual car. There are several companies that are offering long distance and overnight bus travel. Check My Bus website helps you compare and find the best ones.

Trains

The train network is well developed in France with a mix of high speed and local trains run by SNCF, you can check and book your trip on their website. You also have night trains options. If you want to know more about French night train, you will find here a little guide.

Carpooling

When commuting

If you work in a French company in an area that is not so well served by public transport, it is worth checking if you have any colleagues living in the same area that would be open to carpooling.

Also, if the nature of your work allows it, ask your manager to do remote work once a week for example. This will not only reduce your carbon emissions on that day but also save you money and time! Remote work is more and more accepted in France, so don’t hesitate to ask once you have build a trustful relationship with your bosses.

When travelling

Trains can be a bit expensive depending on where you go and some remote areas do not always allow you to take the train, so carpooling is also a good alternative as it increase the occupancy of cars. Carpooling is actually quite popular in France and you can look for a driver on Blablacar website.

Hitchhiking

You can also simply have a go at hitchhiking which is fairly safe in France. You will find some great advice, although only in French, on how to hitchhike in France and even some tips on where to go to get a good chance to be picked-up.

Sailing

If you want to discover French islands or travel from one coastal part of France to another, there is also the option of sailing. With Vogavecmoi, in exchange of your help as a crew member and participation in the expenses, you can find a boat to sail on. If you own a boat, you can also find crew members to navigate with.

Green energy and ethical finance in France

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French energy consumption and sources

In 2016, the total energy consumption by French people accounted for 67.7% from fossil fuels (2% coal, 43.5% oil, 22.2% natural gas), 18.1% from nuclear power and 14.2% from renewable energies (9.7% biomass, 2.9% hydropower, wind power 1%, 0.4% solar power).

In terms of electricity, which accounts for 25% of French total energy consumption, in 2017, 71.6% came from nuclear power, 18.1% of renewable energies and 10.3% from fossil thermal power. With renewable energies share increasing year on year.

source: Wikipedia

 

Green energy

Remember that the best way to lessen your impact on the planet is to avoid unnecessary energy consumption. So pay attention to only turn the lights on when you need and turn the off when you leave a room. Be also aware of that when using heating or air-conditioning.

Check out these tips to save water and to save electricity at home. Also worth mentioning that turning off appliances doesn’t mean it is not using up energy, you need to unplug them to be sure that they are not using standby power.

Once you have followed these tips, it is now important to consider which providers you are getting your energy from and what is the energy sources.

Green electricity

If you are looking for an electricity provider in France, you may want to think about choosing one that is prioritising renewable sources. In France the main ones are Energie d’ici, Enercoop and Ilek.

Green gaz

Biomethane is a type of gaz that is be made from organic waste of various sources and that is therefore considered as renewable. If you are looking for a French provider, EkWateur has an offer for 100% biogas produced in France.

 

Ethical finance

As citizens, we vote with our money. If you are settling in France, you will probably have to open a local bank account. When doing so, it is worth considering how the bank you wish to register with is using your money and which types of projects it is funding. We are sharing with you below which French banks are following ethical principles and funding only eco-friendly projects.

Supporting local businesses is also very important in creating a circular economy, so using local currencies is a great way to do so. You will find below more information on which areas have local currencies.

Ethical banks

A lot of banks are using our money to fund projects which have a negative impact on the environment. So opening a bank account or moving your savings to a bank that is more ethical can make a big difference (more information here in French though).

In France, Nef and Crédit Coopératif are the references for transparency and ethics.

Local currencies

Some areas in France also have local currencies that can only be used in specific areas and allows you to support local businesses. This map shows you local currencies in France.

Understanding France waste management

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France sorting system and its limits

France is sorting its waste, there are sometimes some very slight recycling capability variations depending on which area you live or stay in. In homes, you will usually find 4 types of sorting:

1) recyclable plastic, metal and carton,
2) paper (magazines, newspapers and envelops),
3) glass packaging and
4) other food or packaging waste.

You will find here, although in French, the explanations on what types of packaging should be placed in which bin. Citeo’s Guide du Tri application will help you sort your trash better, you enter the product name and where you live and they will tell you which bin to place it in, they are also allowing you to find collection points in your area.

Bigger items that you have not been able to donate or sell (check our section on that below) have to be disposed of in waste reception centres called “déchetteries”. Here is a guide to find your closest one.

If you are staying in a non eco-friendly hotel, you will probably only get 1 bin for all your trash. That is why it is important to reduce your waste to a minimum. You may also want to use Citeo’s application mentioned above to bring recyclable waste directly to a collection point.

When out an about in France, you will find public bins but there are rarely separating recyclable from burnable waste. So, if you can, keep your recyclable waste with you and throw it in the appropriate bin once you get home.

 

Composting green waste in France

If you are living in France for a few weeks or more, I recommend you to look into composting in order to reduce your burnable waste even more.

There are different types of compost boxes such as worm composter, Bokashi composter etc. You can either buy one ready to use such as this flower pot composter from a young French start-up or make one yourself. Here are some DIY if you have a garden or if you don’t have one.

Having a composter works whether you live in a house or a flat, so go for it! You can then use the compost to feed your plants, bring it to a collective compost area or donate it to a nearby public garden. In this article, you will find some useful tips to get started with composting and a good selection of ready-to-buy indoor composters.

You can also check if a collective compost already exist in your area and bring your green waste there directly. Les Activateurs and Réseau Compost Citoyens have started identifying these places on a map. If you find one on the map near where you are staying, do not hesitate to get in touch with the people to know more about the rules of place and be able to bring your green waste there.

 

Reducing waste

Food waste

The application Too Good To Go helps you to find local stores that have soon to be expired produces and allows you to pick up from them a “surprise” basket for a fraction of the price. That is a great way to do good for the planet while saving money.

Single use items

Since 2017, lightweight plastic bags or not allowed to be distributed in stores anymore. There is however an exception for compostable plastic bags that are partially made from bio-based materials. As of the beginning of 2020, France will have also banned the sale of plastic cups, plates, straws, coffee stirrers, cotton buds and any other single-use item that is using plastic.

Even though plastic single-use items are now being banned, it is still important to avoid the use of single-use items whatever material these are made of and look for reusable alternatives.

Returnable packaging

Returnable packaging for glass bottles is making a return in France after having disappeared in the late 1990’s. Not all glass bottles can be washed and repurposed due to the current lack of infrastructure for that in some areas and also the fact that some labels are difficult to remove.

For the moment, there is no national mapping of places doing returnable glass packaging but we have listed below the areas who are represented so far and the maps of partner stores.

  • Alsace: three local drink brands (Météor, Lisbeth and Carola) have partnered to set up a returnable packaging network. Collection self-service machines are set up in the supermarkets of this region to allow you to return glass bottles from these brands and get 0.20€ back per bottle returned.
  • Bretagne: Distro
  • Grenoble area: Ma bouteille s’appelle reviens
  • Nantes area: Bout’ à bout
  • Toulouse area: Consign’up

Inspirations zero waste and eco-living in France

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Influencers

Having role models can help you progress in your ecological transition. See below a non-exhaustive list of influencers that are following or moving to a lower impact lifestyle, vegan recipes in France.

  • Zero waste lifestyle in France

La famille zéro déchet
Objectif zéro déchet
Sortez tout vert

  • Slow travel

Iznowgood

  • Vegan recipes

Eva les petits plats

  • News on ecology

Partager c’est sympa
Le J-Terre
Le biais vert
Dear Lobbies

  • Workshops

Edeni

Community groups and NGOs

Most of these online communities are in French but if you know the language, they can be really useful if you have a specific question, if you want to share some tips or simply if you want to meet-up with like-minded people in your area.

See below a non-exhaustive list of associations and Facebook groups. Do not hesitate to drop us a note if you know about others.

Les Éco Charlie
Zero Waste France
Zero Waste Rennes
Zero Waste Paris

Podcasts or other resources

These contents are mostly in French, but definitely worth looking into if you are learning the language.

  • Imago TV

Imago TV is the French “Netflix” for video and audio contents on alternative lifestyles and guess what? It is free!

  • Podcasts

Basilic
Bons plants
Ça commence par moi
Des idées pour demain
Objectif zéro déchet
Présages
Social lab

Festivals and events

There are more and more eco-friendly festival and events in France. We have captured a few below.

We Love Green
Cabaret Vert

Eco-friendly accommodation in France

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How to choose a more eco-friendly accommodation?

Our first tip is to avoid traditional hotels and prefer them eco-lodging. Staying with locals is also a great way to have less impact on the environment while travelling and getting to know a culture better. For the later, you can consider platforms like Airbnb or Couchsurfing.

It is always great to check hosts’ reviews and interests. This allows you to meet locals with similar interests (such as vegan or following a zero waste lifestyle etc.) and get more immersed in the culture of the country.

You can also consider short term rental in France and take that opportunity to discover an area while keeping up more easily with your low waste lifestyle.

Alternative ways of travelling

Why not taking the opportunity of travelling to a country to take part in something good for the planet, learn new skills and share your experience by staying for a few days or weeks in an organic farm? Wwoofing allows you to work along your host in exchange for free accommodation and board.

How to have less impact while staying in hotels

If you have to stay at a hotel, be conscious about not using miniature toiletries and always bring your zero waste travelling kit with you. You can also let them know that you do not wish your towels etc. to be replaced everyday and avoid the hotel clothes cleaning service which will bring your clothes wrapped in plastic. Consider instead going to a coin-laundry.