60 French towns swap rubbish trucks for horse-drawn carts

2/10/2010 Guardian  A horse and cart is used to collect the recycling in the St Prix area in France.Long before recycling became a household word, a Paris prefect called Eugene Poubelle, introduced three separate containers for
household waste – glass and pottery, oyster and mussel shells, and the rest -
and had horse-drawn carts empty them. Six years later, his surname entered the
Academy dictionary as the word for “dustbin”. Now, over a century later, a
growing number of French towns are returning to horse-drawn kerbside waste
collection, as a better way to recycle.

For Jean Baptiste, mayor of medieval Peyrestortes, near Perpignan and one of 60
towns now using horses to collect waste, the benefit above all is practical.
“You can’t turn a waste collection vehicle around here. We used to block streets
to traffic and keep waste in open skips.” He sold off a dustbin lorry and
acquired two Breton carthorses instead. Asked whether the changes are saving
money, he says: “It’s too early. But money isn’t the only reason. The exhaust
smells have gone, the noise has gone, and instead we have the clip-clop of
horses’ hooves.”
In Saint Prix, however, in Greater Paris, Mayor Jean-Pierre Enjalbert is certain
he is saving money as the novelty of the horses has increased recycling rates.
“By using the horse for garden waste collection, we have raised awareness.
People are composting more. Incineration used to cost us €107 a tonne,
ridiculous for burning wet matter, now we only pay €37 to collect and compost
the waste.”
Well-established horse-drawn collections also succeed in Trouville, and in
Vendargues near Montpellier, but many ventures last only a few months. Sita,
France’s second biggest waste management and recycling company, has now
integrated the “collecte hippomobile” into three refuse collection circuits in
the Aube département in central France.
Sita’s Alexandre Champion, who instigated the idea, points to several factors
behind the failed ventures: unsuitable horses, untrained workers or inadequate
terrain, poor equipment. Housing estates or old town centres with flat terrain
work best, with a circuit of under 20 km a day, he says. But even terrain
problems can be overcome, and this autumn Sita starts horse-drawn collection in
hilly Verdun, with a pair of strong carthorses.
As for profitability, Champion fears that amateur draught horse associations,
who offer the service to some towns under guidance from the National Stud,
simply don’t have the means to invest, or the commercial know-how. “We are able
to sign six-year contracts with municipalities; it means heavy initial
investment costs can be spread out. That’s what makes the difference.”
Nonetheless, Pit Schlechter, president of FECTU, the European Federation for the
Promotion of the Use of the Draught Horse, based in Luxemburg, is sceptical,
arguing the use of horses is simply because people like the animals. “Horses are
only profitable in places like the German island of Juist, where motor vehicles
are banned, or Gaza, where donkey-carts are back because of the petrol
In Sicily, another place bringing back four-hoofed transport, Mario Cicero,
mayor of 14th-century town Castelbuono, disagrees. He pioneered glass and
cardboard collection using two packsaddle donkeys in 2007. Three years on,
Cicero has done his sums and calculated a cost saving of 34%, as well as winning
over a sceptical population and putting more donkeys to work.
“Compared with €5,000–7,000 annual running costs for a diesel truck, an ass
costs €1,000–1,500 and can live 25-30 years. A truck costs around €25,000, lasts
around five years and can’t reproduce,” says Cicero, whose four asinelli have
now produced 25 offspring, so he won’t even be buying any more.
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