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Environment

Cooking up compost on Paris's housing estates

media "Making compost is a bit like cooking", Jean-Jacques Festel tells the trainees Alison Hird

It’s European week for waste reduction. Here in France there’s a growing trend of turning your own organic waste into compost. And not just in the countryside! Here in Paris a compost expert is showing city-dwellers how to make the most of their waste.
 

Paris City Council is actively encouraging and helping finance community composting facilities on housing estates, based on a model developed by a pioneering maître-composteur (master-composter).

Jean-Jacques Fasquel begins by putting on his apron, the word “CompoSt'ory” printed in big letters on the front.

“If you don’t feel very confident in the beginning," he explains to the dozen compost apprentices he’s training today, “it helps to put this on”.

He then empties the contents of his small green bin into one of several large wooden compost containers in the communal garden at the foot of his block of flats in eastern Paris.

Salad leaves, banana peel, coffee grains along with paper filters and egg shells pour out. He then plunges a long stick in to make air holes, before adding a layer of dead leaves.

“It’s like building up a lasagne,” he tells the trainees, “making compost is a bit like cooking.”

By way of illustration, he picks up a handful of maturing compost from another container and inhales the woody scent before passing it round.

It smells of undergrowth and there isn’t an identifiable food scrap in sight.

It took about six months to reach that stage. The compost is then used to fertilise fruit and vegetables in the communal garden.

When Fasquel set up Paris’s first urban collective composting facility here at 107 rue de Reuilly in 2008, there were mixed reactions. But he managed to convince the estate’s lessors and Paris city council to provide several 600-litre wooden compost containers.

“Now there are about 100 master-composters like me in France,” he says.

Local authorities have understood the merits of developing facilities for both ecological and financial reasons and employ people like Fasquel to train their staff.

“People in France throw away an average of between 40 and 50 kg of compost-friendly waste every year. It costs local councils 80 euros to transport and 80 euros to treat each tonne of waste, so every tonne that’s composted saves 160 euros,” explains Fasquel.

Reduced transport also saves on CO2.

In Fasquel’s own building 75 households out of the 560 are now regular composters in the garden.

Retired resident Françoise Pinchon-Laveau has been involved from the beginning.

“I was tired of seeing how much I was throwing away," she says. "Since I started doing this I’ve noticed my waste-bin is almost empty.”

She also gets a lot out of the social side.

“There are lots of joint activities around this. Next week we’re making a big soup out of food scraps.”

Because, of course, one of the goals is to generate less waste in the first place.

Fasquel says you can make perfectly good food using scraps. His favourite dish is radish-top soup.

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