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Rise and fall of the composting of household waste in the urban area of Paris, France (1940s-1980s)

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Abstract

Organic urban waste (household waste, sewage) became a major issue for industrial cities from the nineteenth century. They had to find and “invent” ways of dealing with it. The “Great Acceleration” post-1945 accentuated this problem: both mass production and consumption generated growing volumes of residues. Besides dispersion, one solution was erected as the only credible one and is still dominant in most countries: the destruction of these organic residues in incineration plants for solid waste or wastewater treatment plant for sewage. Far from being perfect, incineration and sewage treatment generate multiple nuisances: air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and... the opening of biogeochemical cycles. The story of organic urban wastes’ treatment in the Paris area from the end of World War II to the eighties reveals that this technical development and “progress” oriented towards the destruction of organic matter under the guise of hygienics might have taken a radically different path. As part of my doctoral research on biogeochemical policies (policies of management of biogenic elements essential to life), I examine the range of recycling methods that existed and in the decades following the war and, more interestingly, the methods that have been proposed, experimented with and implemented in the Paris region during this period of economic growth. The treatment of household waste in this territorial context represents an excellent example. Post -war, a group of stakeholders (agronomists, doctors, entrepreneurs, city councilors, public engineers, etc.) actively promoted the reutilization of organic waste in raw or processed forms (compost) as agricultural fertiliser in the Parisian region. Studying the emergence and decline of this recycling practice helps deconstruct the idea that only incineration can be a viable waste management solution in a huge urban agglomeration. This opens up future perspectives and allows us to imagine technical solutions that preserve biogeochemical cycles.
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halshs-03800993 , version 1 (06-10-2022)

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  • HAL Id : halshs-03800993 , version 1

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Etienne Dufour. Rise and fall of the composting of household waste in the urban area of Paris, France (1940s-1980s). European Society for Environmental History Conference 2022, Jul 2022, Bristol, United Kingdom. ⟨halshs-03800993⟩
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