For members


Reader question: How do I recycle plastics in Switzerland?

Recycling culture is very strong in Switzerland, with special bins for various kinds of trash available practically everywhere, either on streets or in communal dumpsters. But disposing of plastics is sometimes a problem.

Reader question: How do I recycle plastics in Switzerland?
Public sorted waste bins in Geneva. Photo by Thomas COEX / AFP

Recycling bins are a common sight in all Swiss towns and villages.

They have separate slots for PET bottles, glass, cardboard, paper, tins, aluminium, and batteries. There are also some where fruit and vegetables can be composted.

All this to say that being environmentally friendly is easy in Switzerlans — and most people are.

According the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN), which is responsible for waste management in Switzerland, the country’s overall recycling rate is about 53 percent — one of the highest in the world.

The 47 percent who don’t bother to recycle are not only irresponsible, but they also are breaking municipal laws that mandate that trash must be correctly segregated before disposal.

What this means is that no items that should be recycled — as those mentioned above — should be thrown into garbage bags.

Municipal workers have the right to go through trash bags to identify garbage offenders — and they do.

Failing to comply with the recycling rule can (if you identified through trash bag search — result in heavy fines, the amount of which is determined by each individual commune.

READ ALSO: Why the Swiss government rummages through your garbage 

The matter of plastics

Some mistakes, however, could be caused by simply not knowing how or where to recycle certain items, like plastics.
That’s because rules are not clear enough about the correct way of disposing of this particular material.

As one reader pointed out, there are “no plastic recycling bins to put it in. What are we supposed to do with plastic?”

That’s a good question, considering that, according to FOEN,780,000 tonnes of plastic waste is generated each year in Switzerland.

Out of that, “around 80,000 tonnes are recycled. In contrast to many other countries, Switzerland has not used landfill sites for combustible waste since the year 2000,” FOEN says. “Therefore, all plastic waste must be recycled or incinerated in an environmentally compatible manner.”

So what should households do with their plastic waste, given that no special recycling bins exist?

There are different rules for different type of plastics

Much depends on what you need to dispose of.

If you have PET bottles, you will find a recycling bin especially for them.

Bottles should be flattened before you throw them down the shoot.

When it comes to containers that are not marked ‘PET’, but which have tops — for instance, milk cartons, shampoo bottles, and laundry or dishwasher detergent containers — they should be brought back to supermarkets for recycling.

Grocery stores typically have special disposal chutes for these containers.

And you can bring these items to any supermarket in Switzerland, not necessarily to the one you purchased them from.

There are also plastic containers in which food is sold; typically, you will find a trash bag sign on them, meaning you can throw them out with regular waste because they are biodegradable.

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For members


Why are garbage bags so expensive in Switzerland?

Like nearly everything else, garbage bags too are expensive in Switzerland, with the cost depending on the community where you live.

Why are garbage bags so expensive in Switzerland?

Even if you have become (more or less) accustomed to the cost of living in Switzerland, the price of trash bags may still come as a shock.

You are not alone.

A German social media influencer, who lives in the Zurich area, recently posted a rant on TikTok about the price of garbage bags in her region: 17 francs for a package of ten 35-litre bags.

“It’s such a disgrace that they’re so expensive,” she said. “In Germany, you pay 35 cents or one euro for 60.”

Her post unleashed many comments, but more about them in a minute.

Meanwhile, let take a look at how much these bags cost in various Swiss regions — and why you have to pay so much just to toss your rubbish away.

‘Polluter pays’ principle

Most communities in Switzerland have introduced either official trash bags (that is, the only ones allowed to be used for garbage disposal), priced according to their size (17, 35, 60, or 100 litres), or a special municipal sticker to be affixed to a bag. 

Taxes collected from the sale of these bags (or stickers) are used for municipal waste management.

The thinking behind the special bags, and their pricing, is based on the ‘polluter pays’ principle — the more expensive the bag is, the higher the incentive to care about the amount of trash you are creating.

This is especially true, as you are not supposed to throw just anything into those bags: they are not intended for recyclables, such as PET bottles, glass, carton, paper, aluminium cans, batteries, and compost, which should be disposed of separately.

And if you think you can get away with stuffing your bag to the rim with items that should be recycled (as those mentioned above), do so at your own risk and peril.

Municipal ‘trash inspectors’ (yes, there is such a job in Switzerland) occasionally examine the contents of garbage bags in their communities.

A number of ‘garbage criminals’ have been nabbed in Switzerland in recent years; fines imposed on them vary from one community to another.

READ ALSO :Why the Swiss government rummages through your garbage

How much do these bags cost?

The price depends on where you live and the size of the bag (as explained above).

For instance, a pack of ten 35-litre bags costs 19.50 francs in Vaud, 19.95 in Bern, 23 in Basel-City, and 23.50 in Schaffhausen.

You can see prices for various communities, according to the bag size, here.

You may have noticed that Geneva is not included on that list.

That’s because it is the only canton that does not charge for garbage bags; the only rule is that “household waste must be placed in sturdy, watertight and closed bags meeting the OKS standard and then deposited in a container”.

OKS garbage bags are tested and certified for quality and resistance in accordance with the guidelines of the Swiss Association of Municipal Infrastructure.

READ ALSO: What Geneva residents should know about new compulsory waste sorting

Has Switzerland’s approach been successful?

Various data indicates that the amount of household garbage has decreased, while the overall recycling rate went up considerably.

Now, let’s back to the German Tik Toker

Though many Swiss routinely complain about the cost of trash bags, they don’t like it if foreigners do so.

For instance, among the many comments trashing the woman’s rant, and especially her comparisons to price of bags in Germany, one user remarked, “it’s normal that prices are lower in third-world countries.”