Ratatouille, the documentary: A French philosopher dives into the Paris garbage crisis
The ongoing strike of garbage collectors in France shows us why we try so hard to hide how much garbage we throw out. As trash piles up in the streets, philosopher Gaspard Koenig reminds us that it wouldn't be so hard to recycle and compost more of it.
The strike of garbage collectors can be felt in many cities across France, but it is particularly impressive in the capital, Paris. After just one week, the streets have been invaded by mountains of trash, already estimated at more than 5,000 tonnes.
On some sidewalks, barricades of trash in torn-open bags have piled up above head height. In narrow alleys, the smell is unbearable. Rats are already enjoying an unexpected feast. As we know from Albert Camus’ The Plague, this is not a good sign.
Politically, it is possible that the increasingly unsanitary conditions will end up turning public opinion against the strikers — or at least, the boss of one of the largest French labor organizations, the CFDT, thinks it may. Let us remember the UK's 1979 “Winter of Discontent," when a strike that led to garbage piling up in the streets of London, contributed to Margaret Thatcher’s election victory the following spring.
As we slalom through banana peels, dog food and leftover blanquette, it's worth asking why garbage collectors hold so much power over our lives. We have become dependent, unable to manage our own waste. An average French person produces almost 600 kilograms (1,322 lbs) of waste per year — a figure that is only increasing.
We close the trash bin lid and wash our hands off it.
Most of our current problem is organic waste, which makes up a third of our trash, according to Zero Waste France. We have a simple solution at our disposal: composting. There is no reason to truck our potato peels dozens of kilometers to be incinerated. We could simply let them decompose, thanks to the natural phenomenon of microorganisms. Wait a year and the waste becomes an excellent soil conditioner.
Those who wish to accelerate the process can even buy a vermicomposter for their apartment. Many municipalities, including Paris, provide them free of charge. In a closed and odorless box, thousands of earthworms work for us, munching our kitchen scraps.
In the city, composting requires some collective organization, but nothing complicated in comparison to the dizzying logistics of daily garbage collection. Public parks and shared vegetable gardens are already used for this purpose. Other cities like Nantes have added composting facilities in some neighborhoods. And of course, collection of compost is also possible, like in the French city of Besançon, where it is done by bicycle.
According to the Ordif waste collection surveillance organism, less than 1% of household waste in the Île-de-France region is composted. But the practice is bound to become more widespread. On Jan. 1, 2024, all local authorities will be required to provide citizens with a solution for sorting organic waste. Hopefully, this will convince people to reduce their waste output by making it possible to charge garbage fees based on volume.
The main obstacle to this necessary evolution is not economic, but cultural. Raised in the cult of cleanliness, we do not want to see our waste. We refuse to understand its role in the cycle of life. We pay to dispose of it, even though recycling would be more convenient.
This denial also applies to our excrement. Paris and its suburbs were major market gardening areas throughout the 19th century because the city's "sludge" was recovered to fertilize vegetable gardens. In a recent interview with Thinkerview, agronomist and soil specialist Claude Bourguignon notes how the systematizing of waste collection and expansion of the sewer system deprived us of this precious resource.
Don't get me wrong: This does not mean returning to the time when people walking on the streets of Paris risked receiving a chamber pot on their heads. But knowledge and technology should allow us to combine modern hygiene with the rediscovery of a form of ecological rationality and end the fear of the garbage collector’s strike.
— Gaspard Koenig / Les Echos
• U.S. releases Black Sea drone crash footage: The Pentagon has released a de-classified video showing Russia's intercept of a U.S. military surveillance drone downed over the Black Sea two days ago. In the video, a Russian Su-27 fighter jet comes very close to the U.S. MQ-9 drone and dumps fuel near it. Meanwhile, fierce fighting continues on the ground in Bakhmut, with combat appearing to be focused around a sprawling plant in the eastern city. Fewer than 3,000 people remain in the embattled city.
• Credit Suisse’s $54 billion-lifeline: Credit Suisse said it would borrow up to $54 billion from Switzerland's central bank to shore up liquidity and investor confidence, after a slump in its shares intensified fears about a global banking crisis. The bank's announcement, which came in the middle of the night in Zurich, prompted a 24% rise in Credit Suisse shares in morning trading, and helped reverse some of the heavy losses across stock markets driven by investor fears over potential bank runs across the world.
• Japan-South Korea summit: South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol met his Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida in Tokyo for the first visit in 12 years between top leaders of the two Asian neighbors. The countries, which have been virulent enemies in the past, today are seeking to come together to address common threats from China and North Korea. Indeed, just hours before the trip, Pyongyang fired a long-range ballistic missile into the waters off the east coast of the Korean peninsula.
• Tons of natural uranium missing in Libya: UN nuclear watchdog inspectors have found that roughly 2.5 tons of natural uranium have gone missing from a Libyan site that is not under government control. The finding is the result of an inspection originally planned for last year that "had to be postponed because of the security situation in the region" and was finally carried out on Tuesday. The International Atomic Energy Agency said it will investigate the circumstances of the uranium's removal from the site, and try to locate it.
• U.S. announces $331m in new aid to Ethiopia as Blinken meets Abiy: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has announced $331 million in new humanitarian assistance to Ethiopia during a visit to Addis Ababa aimed at improving the United States’ relations with the East African country. Washington has imposed wide-ranging restrictions on economic and security assistance after criticizing the central government for alleged atrocities committed by Ethiopian forces and their allies during the recent conflict against rebels in the northern Tigray region.
• Farmers’ party wins shock victory at Dutch elections: A farmers' party is set to be the biggest party in the upper house of parliament after provincial elections. The Farmer-citizen movement (BBB) was only set up in 2019 in the wake of widespread farmers' protests and aims to fight government plans to slash nitrogen emissions by dramatically reducing livestock numbers and buying out thousands of farms.
• China fossils reveal 70-ton dinosaur had 15-meter neck: Analysis of bones found in 1987 suggest that the Jurassic-era sauropod known as Mamenchisaurus sinocanadorum sported a neck 15 meters long, or one-and-a-half times the length of a doubledecker bus.
"Naples in hell for a game,” titles southern Italian daily Corriere del Mezzogiorno, featuring an image of yesterday’s clashes between soccer “ultras” (hooligans) supporters and the police, ahead of Napoli’s Champions League match against Germany’s Eintracht Frankfurt
New Zealand’s latest edition of the Oxford English Dictionary has introduced a new batch of 47 words and phrases — most of them in Māori, one of the countries’ official languages. The additions include words that are used in everyday life like the common greeting “Kia ora e hoa!,” “koha” (a gift or offering), “kōrero” (a conversation or chat) but also Māori concepts that do not have an easy English equivalent such as “whenua,” which designates land, and in particular, a Māori person’s native land. The term has been used in English since the 18th century.
How Argentina has become China's foothold in Latin America
China has become one of Argentina's most important trading partners and is increasing its military bases in the country. As China seeks to challenge the liberal world order, Argentina risks rifts with other key allies, warns Rubén M. Perina in Buenos Aires-based daily Clarin.
🇨🇳🇦🇷 There was a media furore worldwide in February over the sighting and subsequent downing of mysterious Chinese balloons by the U.S. coastline. Here in Argentina, currently run by a leftist administration with leanings toward Russia and China, we might pertinently wonder whether or not the secretive Chinese base set up in the province of Neuquén in the west of the country in 2015-17 had anything to do with the communist superpower's less-than-festive balloons.
💰 Broadly speaking, China has duly established itself as a significant actor in Argentina's economy. China is our second trading partner after Brazil, while the total value of bilateral exchanges rose from U.S. $3.2 billion in 2003 to $14 billion in 2020. The value of ongoing or projected investments between 2005 and 2019 has been estimated at $30 billion (or 40% of all investments in South America).
⚠️ China's strategic presence in Argentina and Latin America has the potential to cause dependency and give China an undue level of influence over those countries. At stake is the national sovereignty of states and democratic security on the continent. Its presence, as a challenge to U.S. regional hegemony, could also fuel rifts and tensions between Latin American states and the United States, which can hardly benefit states like Argentina.
➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com
“We will do our part. We will keep our promise.”
— Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has suggested that Turkey could soon ratify Finland’s NATO membership, as the Finnish President arrives in Turkey today. Last year, alarmed by the war that was starting in Ukraine, Finland and Sweden applied last year to join NATO together. For now, all NATO members have ratified their accession, but Turkey and Hungary. Turkey’s potential ratification would allow Finland to join NATO separately from Sweden.
📸 PHOTO DU JOUR
NASA has unveiled the first prototype for a newly designed next-generation spacesuit specially tailored and accessorized for the first astronauts expected to go back to the moon’s surface in the following years. – Photo: NASA/Axiom Space
✍️ Newsletter by Ginevra Falciani, Renate Mattar, Emma Albright and Anne-Sophie Goninet
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