One Man’s Trash Is Another Man’s Treasure: The 2016 Parisian Canal St-Martin Clean-up Begins

Paris cityscape with Eiffel towerIt’s been 14 years since Paris authorities have cleaned out the Canal Saint-Martin in France’s 10 arrondissement, and it may not seem like an exciting event, but the cleaning of the canal has been long awaited by locals.

The St-Martin is what The Guardian calls “a favorite haunt of hipsters” and a scenic location where “locals and tourists sip drinks while watching barges cruise by.” The popularity of the canal has its downside — primarily the collection of a lot of garbage. For residents and business owners living in the area, this three-mile canal is a bit like having a garbage dump in one’s backyard.

City officials have finally begun cleaning out the canal, which typically happens every 12-14 years, according to FRANCE 24. The entire cleaning project costs a whopping €9.5 million, it involves moving four tons of fish into the River Seine, and it takes about three months to complete.

The St-Martin isn’t exactly optimized for easy clean-up. Commissioned by Napoleon in 1804, the canal was used to provide fresh drinking water to the city. The project was funded entirely through a new wine tax, because even though France’s wine industry wasn’t bringing in the 24 million annual visitors it does today, wine was considered a staple (and even a necessity) in society back then.

Over the years, the stretch of the St-Martin near the Place de la République has become a prominent cultural icon. It provided the setting for the 1938 film “Hôtel du Nord,” and as The Telegraph noted, the canal’s footbridges made significant appearances in the modern film “Amelie.”

Although it gets a bit messy, the cleaning of the St-Martin actually does yield some entertaining results. Previous clean-up efforts have uncovered items such as fridges, motorbikes, and police barricades. The last clean-up effort in 2001 uncovered a total 40 tons of garbage, including gold coins, wheelchairs, a toilet bowl, mountains of beer cans, and even two 75mm shells from World War I.

Just a few hours into the 2016 clean-up project, and workers had already uncovered a pistol. Who knows what they’ll find next!

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