Recycling in Switzerland is serious business

| June 19, 2014

Switzerland is second only to Germany for recycling rates in the European Union. “We Swiss like it clean and appealing,” said the former director of the Office of Environment and Energy in the Swiss city of Basel.

So clean and appealing, in fact, that a resident who dared drop off her recycling on the wrong day became a criminal. Judith Schulte, a German native who has lived in Switzerland for seven years, was told she could choose between a $280 fine or two nights in jail (she opted for the former).

recycling in switzerland

Recycling at a Swiss shopping center. From Kecko.

Schulte was busted after a neighbor reported her recycling foul to the police. (Schulte, for the record, thinks it’s “absurd” that the neighbor went straight to the authorities instead of confronting her directly.)

If you think this zero-tolerance policy is strict, get a load of this: the Office of Environment of Energy has a program in which employees slash open garbage bags that were discarded on the wrong day or in the wrong place. They dig through the garbage in order to identify the owner (perhaps via medicine packaging) so they can prosecute accordingly.

While these rules help maintain Switzerland’s reputation for tidiness, they can take some getting used to. A recent article in Bloomberg highlights one of the primary issues with the complicated trash and recycling laws: more than one in five Swiss residents are ex-pats. Newcomers often don’t immediately grasp the nuances of the Swiss system and end up being slapped with lots of fines.

And the rules are, indeed, quite specific. The Bloomberg article reports that: “Newspapers and cardboard must be separated, tied in neat bunches and placed at the curb no earlier than the evening before collection. Cans and glass bottles are deposited at neighborhood dumps, sorted by color, while light bulbs, batteries and plastic bottles are returned to supermarkets.”

In spite of all these regulations, recycling isn’t actually mandatory in Switzerland. However, in many municipalities, recycling is free but citizens pay by volume of garbage, so it’s in their financial interest to recycle as much as possible.

As Schulte found out, it’s also in their interest to recycle correctly. Last year, the city of Basel received 5,300 reports of illegally dumped trash (and there are only 165,000 people in the city).

To be fair, Swiss officials do distribute pamphlets explaining the recycling rules, and they even offer an orientation class and free text message reminders. We’re on board with that; after all, recycling reminders are our favorite things.

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Category: Regulations

About the Author ()

Ellen Hunter Gans has been writing for RecycleReminders since the blog’s inception. She is passionate about words, new media and, of course, recycling.

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