Jean-Claude Coulleau took the lead. No question for this faithful of the Beauregard residence, in Melun (Seine-et-Marne), to discover one fine day that during the renovation of his building the garbage chutes were condemned. “These hatches are so handy for everyone!” “, he launches. In May, the 83-year-old former taxi driver therefore took up his pen, as president of the Association for the Defense of Tenants and the Living Environment of the Melun conurbation, and alerted the officials. The rehabilitation of Beauregard, yes. These buildings built in the early 1960s to accommodate returnees from Algeria need it. The end of garbage chutes, no.

“Those who decide that do not live in our buildings like me since 1964, annoys Jean-Claude Coulleau. So much so that they take measures contrary to our interests. Without a garbage chute, we’re going to be in trouble. Old people with walking sticks, disabled people, how are they going to take their trash cans down, when there’s no elevator in four-story buildings: by putting them around their necks? Habitat 77, the HLM office, quickly answered him: don’t panic, “the studies have not started”, nothing has been decided. Not enough to calm the representative of the tenants. “Little by little, we are removing all the achievements, he plagues. To get milk, you will soon have to go to the farm to milk the cows yourself. Something to revolt about, right? »

Jean-Claude Coulleau is not alone in fighting for his dear garbage chute, this ex-symbol of progress now endangered. In Paris, at 64, rue Compans (19th arrondissement), anger has already exploded. Here too, the tenants had mobilized upstream. But the discussions with the social landlord, the Régie immobilière de la Ville de Paris (RIVP), did not deviate from the course of history. Since the end of March, the garbage chutes of the three thirteen-storey bars have all been condemned. On each landing, the varnished wooden door that allowed access is double-locked. “Permanent closure of used cars”, specifies a poster, asking tenants to drop off their waste “on the ground floor for small volumes”, “at – 3 for large volumes and bio-waste”. “You see, it’s written: ‘Permanent closure’, when they promised us a three-month test”, annoys Isabelle P., the president of the tenants’ association, a civil servant who prefers to remain anonymous .

A mark of distinction

The residents did not let go. For months, they have multiplied the actions. A petition was signed by 85% of tenants. “I oppose the closure of VO” stickers flourished on mailboxes. The elected officials were inundated with mail and requests for appointments. Dialog of the deaf. “If the RIVP reopens the garbage chutes, we are ready to do a lot of education to encourage residents to sort their waste,” explains the president of the association. Otherwise, “we are considering a selective sorting strike…”

For a long time, the rubbish chute represented the pinnacle of modernity. In the middle of the 19th century, the utopian industrialist Jean-Baptiste André Godin was one of the first to set up a “sweeping trap” on each floor of the familistère that he opened in Guise (Aisne) for the workers of his company of cast iron skillets. But it was not until the 1930s that the garbage chute became part, along with the elevator and the central heating, of the elements of “modern comfort” mentioned as a mark of distinction in certain classified advertisements for new Parisian apartments. From 1948, it is taken into account in the calculation of rents: it is equivalent to two additional square meters if it is on the landing, four if it is in the apartment. It really stood out in the 1960s.

In 1973, in their Histoire du confort (PUF), the couple Françoise and Jean Fourastié – he, an economist, is the inventor of the expression “glorious thirties” – is surprised that the architects “have not noticed until very recently to equip Parisian buildings with it”, and that many buildings remain built without this “elementary convenience”. The rubbish chute is, however, an element “indispensable to comfort”, which requires “little space”, “consumes no driving power” and “saves the housewife the chore of having to lower the ‘boxes'”. In a six-storey building, “it saves the rise or descent of more than a thousand floors per tenant each year”, calculate the two authors, admiringly. Since then, generations of children have been fascinated by this mouth ready to swallow everything without chewing, and this bottomless stomach…

After being carried by the hygienist wave, the direct disposal of household waste was however quickly called into question, in the very name of safety. From the 1960s, the public authorities were seized of the many problems caused by garbage chutes. The sound of falling waste, especially cans and glass: gling gling gling gling… The colonies of cockroaches and ants that proliferate in the ducts, and sometimes survive the most vigorous disinfection operations. The mice, the rats that feed on the rubbish that has fallen into the bins, all the way down. Risks of waterlogging, fire.

Relic of the “world before”

Then comes the coup de grace: sorting the waste. With a garbage chute at hand, it’s tempting to throw everything in there, pell-mell. At a time when communities are pushing to sort and recycle, the “VO” seems outdated. A relic of the “world before”. “In Paris, we never put them in new social housing again, and we are gradually eliminating them in old buildings, over the course of renovations, explains Ian Brossat, Anne Hidalgo’s housing assistant. This goes too far against selective sorting. In order to encourage this sorting, the law has also lightened the rules to eliminate garbage chutes. Since 2003, a majority vote of the co-owners is enough, instead of unanimity.

The die-hards of the garbage chute have arguments, however. “It’s simple, practical, especially for the elderly or when the elevators are out of order, as at the moment, pleads Isabelle P., rue Compans. Hygiene problems are solved by disinfectants. And then, it is not contradictory with sorting. You just have to explain to people what they can throw in the garbage chute, and what they should put in separate bins. »

Julien Alberici does not resolve either at the end of the garbage chutes. Sociam, the company created by his grandfather and which he now runs, is probably the last in France to manufacture it. “Finally, in five years, we had to make just one, for export,” he says. Today, the house maintains those who remain and, above all, deals with condemning them, in waves. “Yet there is nothing heresy about this equipment,” he said. They avoid having collection terminals of a more or less happy taste that take up space in public space, and are sometimes quite far from housing. He pauses, then confides, “So when we’re asked to condemn garbage chutes, we do.” But we tell ourselves that one day, we may reopen them. »