In the programme “Déchets : la grande illusion” (Waste: the great illusion) broadcast this Thursday at 9.10 pm on France 2, Élise Lucet and the Cash Investigation team went to “see the other side of the coin” of our dustbins. They wanted to check the promises of sorting professionals. Their conclusion is implacable: “Of the 8.5 billion plastic yoghurt pots consumed each year, only a tiny fraction is recycled… Not exactly the promises of the advertising campaigns,” says Élise Lucet.


Waste is a preoccupation of television channels. After the Zone Interdite report “Waste: the great lies of recycling” broadcast on 14 October on M6, it is the turn of the Cash Investigation team to look into the subject. The programme entitled “Déchets : la grande illusion” (Waste: the great illusion) will be broadcast this Thursday 11 November on France 2. As a preamble, the documentary recalls the World Bank’s figure which announces a 70% increase in waste in 2050, if nothing changes. The journalists therefore wanted to check whether things are changing.

In this area, France is far from being a model: it still burns more than a third of its household waste, i.e. 12 million tonnes per year, in the 122 incinerators in the country. This incinerated waste produces ash, or clinker, some of which is still stored or buried as toxic waste. The Cash Investigation team collected thousands of data points to establish a ranking of good and bad incineration and recycling practices.

The journalists also wanted to understand the problem at its roots: from the sorting centres of Citeo, the eco-organisation in charge of recycling packaging, and Paprec, France’s number one waste collector and recycler. The 100-minute documentary confronts the commitments of industrialists with the facts. While professionals insist that all plastic waste can be put in the yellow bin and recycled, the reality is quite different.

Journalists get commitments

To get a better idea of the problem, one of the journalists was hired at a Paprec recycling plant. Using a hidden camera, he filmed his daily life with suffering colleagues. Elise Lucet then presented the findings of Cash Investigation to the group’s chairman, Jean-Luc Petithuguenin. The director made commitments to the television team, in particular to hire the many temporary employees on permanent contracts.

The team of journalists also obtained promises from the Minister of Ecology on a completely different subject – also dealt with in the documentary – that of methanisation. The big groups are interested in this new cash cow that transforms cow dung into town gas or electricity. But “accidents, pollution, lack of control… In the countryside, anger is growing against these methanisation plants which are multiplying everywhere in our country”, the documentary warns. Barbara Pompili has committed herself to better control this technology, which is currently subsidised by the State.

There is hope because the documentary also presents an effective solution to reduce waste. The incentive fee for the disposal of household waste in Besançon has indeed proved its worth. Since 2008, the city’s 116,000 inhabitants have been paying taxes according to the amount of waste they throw away. This measure has made it possible to reduce the weight of household waste bins by 37% in 13 years and to close one of the three incinerator furnaces.

The programme “is quite fair and very educational, but I have the feeling that there is a slight lack of perspective”, says Alexis Lemeillet, co-founder of Take a Waste. The waste prevention and management expert confirms that “not all plastic packaging is recycled”. But he reminds us that this is “the objective of the modernisation of sorting centres, which will be progressive until the end of 2022”. The specialist adds that the law will ban non-recyclable plastic packaging in 2025. Furthermore, he regrets that the relevant conclusion of the documentary “let’s continue to sort but above all let’s consume less” is not supported!