A Role Model: Waste Management & Recycling In Switzerland

The word Switzerland conjures up the image of finance, impartiality, watches, Swiss Army knives, pharmaceuticals, and yes, chocolate! We’ve also historically heard about the Swiss efficiency – but how does the country stack up on the environmental side – in particular waste management and recycling? I didn’t have to dig long to find various hits boasting about what a role model the country has been in this area.

It turns out that the Swiss do not landfill their municipal waste. In fact, since 2000, everything that cannot be recycled or composted gets incinerated – given that two-thirds of Switzerland is covered by mountains, I can see why! So we wonder about the air – wouldn’t that create an incredible amount of pollution and health hazards? Apparently the incinerators are so advanced, that the air pollution is minimal. But what is minimal? In any case, the incinerators are used to produce energy and the 28 facilities in Switzerland generate electricity for 250,000 homes – pretty impressive. What’s more, this substantially decreases the amount of oil imports required for heating.

On the recycling end, the Swiss can proudly claim to be among the top recyclers in the world. They’ll recycle about 76 percent of everything that’s recyclable or around 50% of all urban waste. To give you a point of reference, the US urban recycling rate is around 30 percent and our Canadian efforts are hovering around the same level. So how does Switzerland do it? Is the country so much more concerned about the environment than we are? Not necessarily. There’s a system in place – namely financial incentives and having the infrastructure in place to make it convenient for citizens to do their job.

While recycling is free, the waste removal is not. In fact, there is a per bag fee of about 1 Euro and each bag requires a sticker to provide proof of payment – no sticker no pick-up. Apparently the fine for not paying your waste disposal fee can be up to $10,000 if you’re caught.

But if the Government is going to have such fees attached to waste disposal, then access to proper waste management and recycling needs to be in place. Pretty much every super market in Switzerland has a bottle bank (with separate slots for different glass colours!) and batteries can be handed over at the counter. Every town has free paper and green waste pick up and there are plenty of specialty sites available for aluminum, tin, oil or chemical waste among others. In addition, consumers can leave all unwanted packaging at the cash register to leave the onus of wasteful packaging on the suppliers.

Once again, the Swiss efficiency seems to shine.


Swissworld.com: Recycling
Swissworld.com: Waste Management
Stats Canada: Recycling in Canada
Wikipedia: Waste Management in Switzerland
Few holes in Switzerland’s Recycling Program
Recycling In Switzerland

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  1. Recycling New York’s avatar

    Nice and informative post.