The health crisis shone a spotlight on their profession, which often goes unrecognized and yet is essential... The first links in the waste chain, they are responsible for the mechanize collection of household waste and recyclable materials in Paris. Whatever the weather... even during lockdown.
What has changed since March 2020? Reinforced health and safety protocols, first and foremost, but also a rediscovery of the importance of these frontline workers who provide these key services, and the attitude of the people with whom they rub shoulders daily.
From his garbage truck cab a few meters above the ground, Ahmed observes the bustling streets of the 11th that come alive at night. He began his shift on board the truck at 4.15 p.m. and his round will finish around 10 p.m. In the meantime, he will have received his itinerary, put on his safety gear and inspected his truck in detail, before following the route of his round via GPS.
For his part, at the rear of his garbage truck with his crewmate, Jean-Philippe travels through the streets of the 19th from six in the morning, 5 days out of 7. In this area with a high concentration of social housing projects, he keeps up a sustained, measured pace until 2 p.m.: alight, inspect the recycling bins, collect, empty, and climb back on board.
Whether driver or waste collector, they are both aware of giving a rhythm to the city as they clear it. Their route is punctuated with encounters and moments that enrich their job, such as a free coffee from a bistro owner or doing little favors for residents. They participate in local life, playing a reassuring role, especially during rounds at night. Vigilance is the watchword once they are on the streets: it is vital to protect the crew, who have to show speed and agility.
Jean-Philippe and Ahmed will soon be celebrating 20 years of working in waste management, without any feelings of bitterness or demotivation: they’re not the type! For the former boxer and philosophy enthusiast and the brown-belt in karate with a Zen attitude, the recent recognition of the profession is only fitting:
“During the rounds, you block vehicles, drivers honk their horns, people in a real hurry insult us... But since the crisis, many people clap us from the window or sidewalk and encourage us by acknowledging our work!”
They admit that the drawings and little words of encouragement left or stuck on the bins during lockdown gave them a boost and helped them stay committed during this difficult time.
They are proud of their job as a waste collector and driver. And they both know that their work enhances not only the image of Veolia but also that of Paris — the City of Light.