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EXPLAINED: Rules on recycling in France

France has an extensive programme of recycling, from daily household waste to items including old clothes, furniture and batteries. But you'll need to know where to leave your waste to make sure that it gets recycled.

A horse draws a cart containing recyclable waste in the French town of Le Mans.
Not every town in France has a horse-drawn cart that collects recycling like this one in Le Mans. Photo: Jean-Francois Monier / AFP

It would be nice if a horse-drawn cart would come round and take away your recycling – as it does in the town of Le Mans – but that’s not the case for most French towns.

Local authorities are responsible for the household waste management in their area, which means that the rules on what can be recycled and where to put it vary from place to place.

In most areas the mairie will deliver a leaflet outlining the recycling protocol, and you can also find details on the website of your local préfecture.

Recycling bins

A lot of your everyday household waste can be recycled – paper, cardboard, tins, glass and certain types of plastic.

In most areas you can’t just leave your own household bin outside for collection, you need to put the waste into the nearest recycling bin.

These are generally the ones with the yellow lids. If you’re in a city you probably have a wheelie bin for your apartment block or street. In smaller places there will likely be large wheelie bins at a couple of strategic points around the village.

In some areas the mairie distributes recycling bags.

Instead of wheelie bins, some towns use fixed point bins for recycling. These should be clearly marked as recyclage (recycling).

If you want to try composting your food waste to make compost for the garden, some local authorities distribute composters for free.

Glass

Glass cannot usually go in the yellow recycling bin – and must be collected and disposed of separately.

Often public bins for glass are available alongside the bins for paper, plastic and cardboard, but some places have a separate recycling area for glass. If your local area doesn’t have one, or you’re struggling to find it, most supermarkets have a glass recycling bin the in the car park.

Coffee pods

If you’re a Nespresso or similar devotee, aluminium coffee pods can now be recycled in some areas. The city of Paris announced in 2019 that coffee pods can be recycled via the yellow-lid bin, and may other local authorities have followed suit.

Electrical recycling

Old electronic equipment can be taken to waste collection and recycling centres (déchèterie). Small electricals – as well as burned-out lights and empty batteries – can also be taken to collection points in many superstores. 

Déchèterie: What you need to know before going to a French recycling centre

It is also worth noting also that, in the case of smaller electrical items, shops – in most circumstances – must accept an old product from a customer who no longer wants it, if the customer is buying a replacement. This includes buying products online.

A useful online tool to decide how and where you can recycle everyday household objects in your area is  here

Batteries

All shops selling batteries are obliged by law to take back the old ones for free and in supermarkets you’ll see tall plastic containers that old batteries can be dropped into.

Clothes

Unwanted clothes can be put in special collection containers found around town – often in supermarket carparks – or left at in a dedicated bin at the déchèterie.

Paint and oil

You need to go to your nearest déchèterie to dispose of paints, toxic products and waste oil from vehicles.

Car tyres

Unlike most other products, car tyres cannot be taken to the déchèterie. Instead, you should take them to a garage, which is required by law to take them off your hands free of charge.

Larger products

Larger items, such as pieces of furniture, washing machines or refrigerators can be collected by the local authority. In some areas you will need to arrange the collection in advance while others, mainly cities, have bulky waste collection points where you can leave your unwanted items on a certain day of the week. Check with your local authority for their protocol.

Some stores also offer a deliver-and-collect scheme if you’re buying larger items like sofa or washing machines, where they will take away your old item.

Member comments

  1. We don’t often give three cheers for the Saumur Agglomeration, but when it comes to recycling, they are ace. Four bins for glass, packaging, paper and household waste, and the local dechéterie deals with everything else: electrical. garden waste, building waste … And they are really nice and welcoming at our ‘tip’ in Montreuil-Bellay. For example: ‘Comment va la reine ce matin?’ Reply ‘Je ne sais pas, j’etais toujours au lit quand elle s’est levé.’

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LIVING IN FRANCE

Reader question: Can I buy a car in France if I’m not a resident?

If you spend only part of your time in France but don’t officially reside in the country, what are the rules regarding vehicle ownership? Can second home owners buy a car for the time they spend here?

Reader question: Can I buy a car in France if I’m not a resident?

Whether you actually need a car in France depends a lot on where you live. Larger towns and cities increasingly have public transport and cycling and pedestrian-friendly infrastructure that means owning a car is not always necessary.

But, for those who live in rural areas, owning a car is vital, while even in well-served towns and cities, a car remains a necessity for many people.

But what happens if you’re a second home owner who is a non-resident in France? Can you buy and own a vehicle here?

The short answer is: Yes, you can. But – there’s always a but – you need to be aware of certain issues.

Buying a car

The most straightforward way to own a car in France is to buy one here. That way, it will come with the necessary registration documents and the car will already be registered in France.

You still need to change the details on the vehicle’s certificat d’immatriculation – informally known as the carte grise – to show that you are the registered owner.

Car dealers will usually arrange the paperwork, possibly for a fee, with your input limited to signing the right bits of paper. You will need to provide valid ID (such as a passport) and proof of address in France that the car will be registered to.

To do this you will need to provide documentation that includes your full name and address.

Any of these are accepted:

  • The title deed to the home if you are the owner;
  • A rent receipt in your name if you are a tenant;
  • A recent bill for the taxe d’habitation or local tax that is less than six months old;
  • A telephone, gas or electricity bill (water bills and mobile phone bills may not be accepted)
  • A certificate of insurance of the home

If you’re buying privately, however, you’ll need to sort out all the paperwork yourself. 

The registration process is these days entirely online at the Agence nationale des titres sécurisés (ANTS) website.

READ ALSO Second home owners in France: Can I register a car at my French address?

Financing

If you have the funds to buy the vehicle outright, you’ll have no problems – simply hand over the cheque at the appropriate time. It will be harder, however, to access financing for your vehicle if you’re not permanently resident in France.

READ ALSO How to get financial help in France to buy an electric car

Second-hand vehicles

If the vehicle you want to buy is more than 4 years old you will also need: a valid roadworthiness inspection – known as a contrôle technique (CT), unless the vehicle is exempt from it. 

The CT must be less than 6 months old on the day of the registration request (2 months if it’s a counter-visit to confirm that defective points detected during an initial test have been repaired). 

If this deadline is exceeded, you will have to pay for a new test, and sort out any defects at your own expense.

READ MORE: What you need to know about the French ‘contrôle technique’ 

Insurance

Any vehicle permanently kept in France must be insured in France. Be aware that any vehicle brought permanently into France from another country must – legally – be registered with French authorities otherwise owners risk a fine of up to €750.

This is especially important for Britons after Brexit. French insurers will no longer insure a car registered in the UK. And British insurers will not insure cars registered outside Britain. Nor will British insurers insure vehicles of permanent residents in France. 

Remember also, that DVLA rules mean cars are considered exported if they have been taken out of the country for more than 12 months – and they, then, cannot remain on UK plates.

READ ALSO Seven need-to-know tips for cutting the cost of car insurance in France

Here, the vehicle is insured, rather than the driver, and it must always be covered. You can cut the cost of insuring your vehicle in France by reducing the level of coverage temporarily during periods you’re not in the country. 

But you will have to be aware of maintenance issues caused by leaving your car unused for any length of time.

CTs and the art of motorcar maintenance

Speaking of maintenance, French cars that are four years old or more must undergo a contrôle technique road-worthiness test every two years. 

These are carried out at dedicated test centres in towns and cities across France, and it is your responsibility to ensure your car is roadworthy and tested so it can be used on French roads. Proof of testing is fixed to the windscreens of tested vehicles so that officials can check easily.

Crit’Air

The Crit’Air system was introduced in 2017 and assigns a number to each vehicle based on how much they pollute, so you will need to apply for a number to stick on your windshield. 

READ ALSO How France’s Crit’Air vehicle sticker system is taking over the country

In the many towns and some entire departments, the sticker is a requirement year round, even if they are only used to ban the most polluting vehicles during spikes in air pollution. Basically, it’s a good idea to have one just in case you travel in or through those places that require them.

Crit’Air stickers are obligatory in Paris, Grenoble, Lille, Bordeaux, Rennes, Strasbourg, Toulouse, and Marseille.

READ ALSO By country: How hard is it to swap your driving licence for a French one?

Importing a car

You can import your car from another country, if you wish. But you will need to deal with additional paperwork.

On the British side, you will need to declare that you are exporting via National Export System. To do this, you must get an Economic Operator Registration and Identification (EORI) number – but you can only obtain such a number if you are only moving goods for personal use (if you are simply bringing a car for yourself).

You will also need access to the Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight (CHIEF) platform – again this is only possible for traders. If you fail to declare your export officially, border officials may block you from entering France with the vehicle. 

On the French side, you will need a 846A certificate to be able to drive your imported car legally – or to eventually sell it in France. 

READ ALSO Reader question: How can I import a car from the UK to France?

Obtaining such a certificate is no easy feat. But it can be done…

READ ALSO ‘Be prepared to be patient’ – Registering your British car in France after Brexit

You cannot keep a foreign-bought vehicle registered in two countries. Part of the process of switching to French plates is to inform authorities in the second country that it has been exported.

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