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LIVING IN SWITZERLAND

Trash talk: What are the rules for garbage disposal in Switzerland?

The Swiss are meticulous when it comes to waste disposal and, not surprisingly, they have strict regulations on how to throw away trash in an environmentally correct manner.

Trash talk: What are the rules for garbage disposal in Switzerland?
These are the recycling bins for the trash-compliant people in Switzerland. Photo by AFP

A recent post on the expatriate forum caught our eye because it shows that some new arrivals may not know all the intricate details involved in disposing of one’s rubbish in Switzerland.

This person wrote: “The agency that rented me the flat sent me a letter with pictures of my opened garbage where they identified me by my personal documents. They sent me a fine to pay because I have not correctly separated the garbage.

“How legal is this action to open garbage and identify me?”

Clearly, this person is not aware that throwing away all their waste in a trash bag without segregating it is an offence in Switzerland.

For instance, mixing PET bottles with tin cans or paper can result in heavy fines, the amount of which is determined by each individual commune.

And yes, municipal workers have the right to go through trash bags to identify garbage offenders.

For example, last year a woman in the Lausanne area was fined 190 francs after she allegedly put out her garbage on a Wednesday. Under local by-laws, rubbish can only be placed on the street for collection on Mondays.

Her bag had been opened and a bill had been found in her name, allowing garbage detectives to identify her.

Also last year, rubbish patrols handed out dozens of 40-franc fines to people in Grenchen, canton Solothurn, for dumping their garbage bags haphazardly in the streets rather than at the official drop-off spots. 

There are also certain rules for particular types of seasonal waste. Christmas trees, for instance, are not to be put in organic waste/compost in most parts of the country (but not all). 

Reader question: How do I dispose of my Christmas tree in Zurich?

This kind of over-zealous approach is not necessarily the norm in all Swiss communes, but it is better to be informed and follow the rules than risk a fine.

Remember: garbage is a serious matter in Switzerland. These are the things to keep in mind.

You can’t use just any bag to dispose of your trash. Each canton has either specially designated bags, priced according to their size (35, 60, or 100 litres), or a sticker to be affixed to a bag.  Taxes collected from the sale of these bags are used for municipal waste management.

The bags are available in all supermarkets, grocery and convenience stores. However, you may not find them on the shelves and you will have to ask for them at the cash register. The reason is that the bags are expensive (though prices vary from one canton to another) and people have been stealing them.

Just as an example, a pack of ten 35-litre bags costs 20.20 francs in Zurich and 19.50 francs in Vaud, so prices for bags, or stickers, are not uniform through Switzerland.

You should not throw away your recyclables, including PET bottles, glass, cardboard, paper, tins, aluminum, and batteries, into the trash bag. Instead, they must go into a specially designated collection point in your commune of residence.

This map shows where the one closest to you is located.

Follow all these rules and you will never have to worry about trash police knocking on your door.

Member comments

  1. “The bags are available in all supermarkets, grocery and convenience stores. However, you may not find them on the shelves and you will have to ask for them at the cash register. The reason is that the bags are expensive – over 30 francs for 10 of the smallest-sized ones— and people have been stealing them.”

    the following is copied from my last supermarket order (Migros (Swiss))

    “Legal designation
    Sacs à ordures 35L
    Product ID: 56724
    Fr. 2.50
    20 Pieces
    Fr. 0.13 / Piece”

    … please explain …

  2. Thanks to all for comments pointing out to discrepancies in prices. This is now corrected in the article.

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For members

LIVING IN SWITZERLAND

How to dispose of unwanted furniture or whitegoods in Zurich legally

Got an unwanted mattress, fridge or sofa? Here’s how you can legally get it off your hands in Zurich.

How to dispose of unwanted furniture or whitegoods in Zurich legally

If you’ve bought a new piece of furniture in Zurich or a mattress, you may be faced with the problem of what to do with the old one. 

This is particularly the case in cities like Zurich, where space is at a premium and you may not be able to kit out your spare room with the old furniture. 

While there are waste disposal centres, even getting there without a car can be a problem. 

One man’s trash…

First things first, think about whether you really need to get rid of the thing in question. 

While you may not want it, there may be someone out there willing to take it off your hands – particularly if you aren’t going to charge them. 

The first point of call is to ask your friends and colleagues if they’re interested, with social media the perfect place to ask around. 

If you live in an apartment complex, you might try placing the item in a common area with a note saying “zu verschenken” (to give away) or ‘gratis’ (free). 

After that, there are several online options like eBay, Facebook Marketplace, Free Your Stuff Zurich, Ricardo, Anibis, Craig’s List and Tutti. 

Some of these sites will charge a fee – even if you’re giving something away – so be sure to read the fine print first. 

Another option is to donate the goods to a charity organisation. They will usually charge you money to pick it up and prices can vary dramatically. 

Caritas charge CHF35 per 100kg plus transport costs, while Sozialwerk Pfarrer Sieber will pick up small items of furniture for a flat fee, although you’ll need to send them pictures first before they give you a quote. 

Can I put old furniture on the street in Zurich? 

Although less common than many other European cities, occasionally you will see furniture out on the street in front of homes and apartment blocks in Zurich. 

While it might clutter up the sidewalk, it is technically not illegal – provided you only do so for a maximum of 24 hours. 

You also need to make sure it doesn’t block cars, bikes or pedestrians. If it does – or if you leave it out for longer – you risk a fine.

Entsorgungstram: Zurich’s recycling and waste disposal tram

One option is the Entsorgungstram, a mobile recycling centre on rails for all Zurich residents. 

This tram weaves its way through several parts of Zurich, picking up old bulky waste including electrical devices and furniture. 

If you are lucky to live near an Entsorgungstram line, just check the timetable and bring your waste items along to meet the tram. 

There are some rules, as laid out by the Zurich council. 

“The delivered items must not be longer than 2.5 meters (exception: sofa/upholstered furniture can be no longer than 2 meters) and no heavier than 40 kilograms per item. Separate the material beforehand according to its composition: flammable, large metal and landfill”. 

Unfortunately, only pedestrians and cyclists can use this service, i.e. you cannot drive from elsewhere and deposit the stuff. 

More information including route details can be found at the following link. 

Regular waste disposal

Your next option is to see whether you can get rid of it in your usual waste disposal. 

This being Switzerland, there are a lot of rules about what the waste management company will take and will not. 

If you’re throwing away a mirror, for instance, you cannot put that with your other glass waste and will need to dispose of it elsewhere. 

On the other hand, they may take things like carpets and mattresses – although you’ll need to pay a bit extra. 

The exact rules will depend on your municipality, but generally speaking you will need to buy additional waste stickers – which cost money. 

In Zurich itself, every household receives four coupons for disposal of waste (up to 100kg) each. 

When you run out of coupons, you’ll need to pay by the kilo. 

You’ll still need to bring it to the waste disposal facility, or pay a pick up fee of around CHF80. 

This may sound steep, but they do come to your home and pick it up – which will likely be cheaper than a rental car or van. 

In Winterthur, you will need to buy stickers for CHF1.80 from the council, with each sticker letting you dispose of 10kg of waste. 

Check with the retailer where you bought the new item

One option offered by furniture sellers is to buy your old furniture or whitegoods or accept them as a trade in. 

While this is likely to be more common with second hand retailers who might see potential in your unwanted item, it is also a service offered by retailers who only sell new goods. 

One example is Ikea, who will take your old mattress, furniture or electronic device and recycle it. 

This service is available at Ikea outlets for a cost of CHF10 each. 

It is also available when you get something new delivered, although you must pre-book so the driver can be sure to set aside enough space. 

This will cost you CHF80 for furniture, or CHF50 for electronic devices and mattresses. Keep in mind that (at least with Ikea) this service is only available when you buy something new. 

Several other furniture companies offer a similar service, including Schubiger Möbel, Möbel Pfister and Conforama.  

Electrical item retails will often take your old electrical goods for recycling, whether these are small like iPhones or large like fridges and washing machines. 

More information about which goods can be recycled and how in Switzerland is available at the following link. 

Moving companies

Removalist companies are another option – whether you are moving house or not. 

If you are moving house then a disposal service may be included in the overall fees. 

If not, you can still contact the company and get the item taken off your hands. 

While different companies will charge different amounts, you’ll usually pay per 100kg rather than per item, which can be a better (or worse) option than contacting the local council. 

Swiss comparison site Comparis has detailed info about how to find a moving company here

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