Les Halles: Trash

Observing how people and stores dispose of trash at Les Halles shows us how urban infrastructure services operate. Understanding garbage disposal in the city is fundamental for reducing pollution and improving daily life.


We created a density map of trash cans in three locations at Les Halles to observe how custodial services and trash layout can impact their fullness. To measure this density, we counted the number of trash cans within a delineated area and divided by the surface area.

By measuring the fullness of each trash can with a meter stick (dividing the trash height by the can height), we determined which trash cans are the most used.  This is essential to understanding the relationship between pedestrian traffic and trash can fullness, allowing us to determine the efficiency of the trash can distribution.  We also pinpointed the location of each trash can on Google Maps and created a simplified diagram to make the information clearer.

We also documented the different shapes of the trash cans via sketch and picture. This helped us understand how some trash cans (especially in Les Halles) are designed for a place, both aesthetically and functionally (Figures 1-3).

Figure 1. Forum des Halles trash cans. An ashtray was available on these cans.
Figure 3. Place Joachim-du-Bellay trash cans.
Figure 2. Jardin Nelson-Mandela trash cans. No ashtray was available.

In addition, we also interviewed the employee in charge of collecting the trash, from whom we learned that certain trash cans are transparent for security reasons. Fortunately, this transparency allowed us to see the material inside and extrapolate about consumer habits.  Finally, we observed litter on the ground and its relation to trash can distribution.


Our quantitative assessment of garbage disposal at Les Halles uncovered certain critical observations relating to spatial layout and function.  As the maps show, trash receptacles are denser at the Place Joachim-du-Bellay (10.3 receptacles / 1000 m2), and more dispersed at the Forum des Halles (3.3 / 1000 m2) and the Parc Nelson-Mandela (1.2 / 1000 m2).

In the plaza, trash cans are also arranged in a consistent geometric pattern, whereas they seem to be randomly scattered in the mall and park (Figures 4-6).  Although we did not quantitatively assess litter on the ground, we noticed that despite the saturation of the Place Joachim with evenly dispersed trash cans, there was still more litter than in the park or the mall.  We concluded that the custodial services in this public place are less reliable, perhaps because a private company is responsible for the Place Joachim in the morning and public services take over in the afternoon.

Trash cans contained the greatest amounts of garbage on the corners and edges of spaces.  These liminal locations, where people transition between places or activities, encourage them to dispose of their trash.  This can be seen in the mall, where a bottleneck effect can be observed at the narrower entrance, and trashcan fullness is correspondingly greater (Figure 4).  At the plaza, the outer rim and the corners also hold more trash (Figure 6).  The park’s trash cans were more full around the edges as well (Figure 5).  In general, trash can fullness stayed fairly low in most places, as shown by the diagrams.  Most of the trash appeared to be food-related irrespective of the time of day.


Figure 4. The Forum des Halles displays fuller trash cans around the “bottleneck” narrower entrance.


Figure 5. Red striped zones represent areas of the Jardin Nelson-Mandela closed down due to construction.
Figure 6. The trash cans in the Place Joachim-du-Bellay are geometrically distributed in two concentric rings around the fountain.
Figure 7. In the Forum des Halles, this pie chart displays the proportion of trash cans of varying fullness. Few trash cans were almost completely full.
Figure 8. In the Jardin Nelson-Mandela, most trash cans were 25 – 50% full.
Figure 9. In the Place Joachim-du-Bellay, half of the cans were almost empty.


Improvement Proposal

In general, we found Les Halles to have an effective trash system.  The trash cans are relatively well-distributed—few were ever completely full, and we frequently saw trash collectors in each of the three places.

We do propose, however, that the ground at Les Halles should be cleaned more often, especially in the plaza.

Indeed, in the Place Joachim-du-Bellay, there were numerous cigarettes and trash lying on the floor, leading to a feeling of overall dirtiness. In contrast, the Forum des Halles had little floor litter. Just as a clean floor discourages people from throwing their trash on the ground, a dirty floor may lead to guilt-free littering in a positive feedback loop. Thus, keeping a consistently clean floor could have an enhanced positive effect.

To prevent the floor from being covered by cigarettes (as we saw in the plaza), we also suggest adding some real ashtrays to the trash cans. The trash cans in Forum des Halles have proper cigarette holders, while trash cans elsewhere do not. We hypothesize that the Forum des Halles had less floor litter in part due to these ashtrays, leading us to conclude that the Plaza should also add trash receptacles with such ashtrays to reduce floor litter.

Finally, we propose implementing more recycle cans. In each place, very few recycle cans were installed and their distribution was irregular, so they were hardly used despite the large number of recyclable bottles we found in the trash. New recycle cans must be added next to normal trash cans, and some already existing cans could be converted to recycling cans in order to facilitate environmentally-friendly recycling.

Group 6: Benjamin D’Oberset, Erik Fliegauf, Mouna Lekhnati, Phillip Yu


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