Staying in Switzerland for a while and you want to know how recycling works? You’ve found the right guide because we’ll tell you everything you need to know to properly separate your trash in the Alpine country!
Recycling waste is mandatory in Switzerland, and if you don’t do it you can get a fine of 300 CHF. That’s a lot of money, which is better spent on a Swiss Travel Pass or accommodation somewhere for a few days, so make sure you’re following all the rules. And don’t worry – recycling in Switzerland is easy and simple, and in some cases, you only need to take the waste to your front door!
How Is Recycling Done in Switzerland?
The recycling system in Switzerland can be a bit overwhelming to newcomers, but once you get the hang of it, it’s pretty easy and comes naturally. Everything gets separated in Switzerland – even plastic beverage bottles are separated from oil bottles, and it takes some time to learn all the different rules.
Also, it’s important to note that the rules for waste management are not the same throughout the country, and you should get acquainted with the rules for your specific canton or municipality. Most have a helpful app you can download on your phone or a website that you can access if you search for “Abfall (name of municipality)”.
Organic substances are part of recyclable waste and should be separated from household waste and other recyclables. You can either compost these or dispose of them in a specific organic waste bin. Most communities do this separately once a week with a big green bin that is emptied by a specific service. So, before you start collecting yours, check you have such a bin outside your apartment or house.
What most people do when they can recycle green waste is to collect it in a smaller green bin inside, or on the window sill of the kitchen (because it can stink). This smaller green bin can be lined with an organic plastic bag that is compostable too. If you use normal plastic bags, be sure to throw them away in the normal trash.
Food and garden waste includes leftovers, veggies, fruits, coffee grounds, tea leaves, peelings, eggshells, wilted flowers, grass cuttings, and small branches. In some places (but not everywhere!) organic waste also includes tea bags, meat and fish bones, and Christmas trees. Although, most of the time, Christmas tree collection is on a very specific day of the year.
Paper and Cardboard
Some municipalities separate paper from cardboard and others don’t, so you will have to check the rules for your specific municipality. When recycling paper and cardboard in Switzerland, it’s important to know you can’t recycle extremely glossy paper or one that has a metallic cover.
Also, when recycling cardboard like pizza or takeout boxes, you can recycle only the clean parts. So, if there’s a greasy stain on your pizza box, it’s advised you cut it off before getting rid of it.
Paper and cardboard can be recycled at waste collection points, and recycling bins on the street, or you can just leave them in front of your building if you’re in a community with a door-to-door collection program. Ours was collected about once a month or so by the local kids in the scouts or schools. They earn a little extra money with it.
Note: Just be sure to separate cardboard and paper as they have different recycling processes.
Additionally, keep in mind that Tetrapak cartons (like fruit juices or some milk etc) should be separated from other paper and cardboard waste. Some municipalities have specific Tetrapak collection bins, and this is because Tetrapak usually has an aluminum layer on the inside that can’t be recycled with other cardboard. These containers will always have a Tetrapak indication at the bottom, so just look for that if you’re not sure how you’re supposed to dispose of a container.
Plastic materials other than PET or plastic milk bottles seem like they can’t be recycled in Switzerland because they are not collected or taken back to the supermarket. However, there is a way!
In general, you can recycle most hard plastic bottles, so items like bottles from cleaning products, milk, shower gels, plastic deodorants, etc. Even tomato and blueberry containers can be recycled.
There is a swiss-wide system of bags called Sammel Sack you can collect your plastic in and then take to your local recycling center. We were only made aware of it in the last few years, but it almost emptied our normal rubbish bins as a result. There is so little that can’t be recycled it is amazing. It is called “sammelsack” in German, and you can go to their website to find out where you can buy the bags and take them when they are full.
Just be aware you can’t dispose of plastic bags or plates and cutlery together with these plastic materials. There’s really no explanation why that is, and it’s best to avoid buying these items altogether, at least if you want to avoid a pile-up of non-recyclable trash in your home.
Electronic and Electrical Equipment
Electrical and electronic equipment such as old vacuums, TVs, and even computers can all be recycled. You can usually just bring these items into the stores that sell electronics, and they will take the waste off your hands.
The idea is that you have actually paid for the recycling of them when you bought them. So, any store that sells them has to take anything electronic back. So, what I do is take them into Fust or Interdiscount and they have a place to put them out the back. You can take them to almost any electronic store, but I find the bigger ones are better set up to deal with it, and more helpful.
It’s also possible to drop off certain electronics at collection points. There are SWICO drop-off points in many cities throughout the country, and they will collect pretty much anything that has a screen.
Glass waste should be separated from other types of waste and disposed of in designated local glass recycling bins. You can dispose of glass jars and glass bottles in these bins, but you can’t throw away glasses, mirrors, or light bulbs.
When recycling glass, you must remove the metal lid from the jars, but you don’t have to get rid of the stickers.
Note: The supermarkets have a separate spot for light bulbs, water filter cartridges, batteries and some other unusual things like that. Take a look at Migros or Coop when you are there next time.
PET beverage bottles are recycled separately from other plastics in Switzerland. You can dispose of them at the designated municipal waste collection point or even at the recycling station at the local supermarket.
It’s important to note that only PET bottles from drinks can be recycled at these points. No PET bottles from oils or other substances, no PET trays, and most definitely no other plastic can be disposed of at these points!
Metal is also recycled in Switzerland and you can drop off your metal waste at the designated trash containers. Metal that can be recycled includes tin cans, lids of various jars and bottles, drink cans, containers of pet food, foil lids, and various aluminum tubs.
Metal waste that shouldn’t be mixed with recyclable metal waste includes metal construction scraps, coffee capsules (even if they’re aluminum), and composite materials such as a butter wrapper.
When disposing of metal cans, lids, and pet food containers, it’s recommended to rinse them to get rid of any food residue that might be present. You should also take off any labels, especially if they are plastic or paper.
Batteries should always be separated from all other waste and recycled at designed points. You can usually find these spots at the designated recycling stations at larger supermarkets, so the next time you’re going to pick up groceries, just remember to bring all your dead batteries with you.
It’s worth noting that many other items can be recycled at supermarket recycling stations, including glass bulbs, aluminum coffee capsules, PET bottles, and more.
Waste oil (cooking and mineral oil) is considered hazardous waste in Switzerland and must be disposed of at designated hazardous waste collection points. Also, you must have suitable containers that are either 200-liter barrels or 10-liter canisters. Disposing of waste oil in your sewage or along with other household waste is forbidden and could incur a fine.
Used Clothes & Shoes
There are dedicated collection points for used clothing and shoes at waste disposal points throughout the country. It’s also possible to donate these items to various charity organizations, and you can even attempt selling them online.
Also, you can’t just recycle anything. Damaged and dirty clothes will not be accepted, and if you’re trying to recycle shoes, you should make sure to bring both shoes and tie them together. Mattresses and cushions also can’t be recycled, but duvets, linens, stuffed toys, and down cushions can.
What about household waste, or items that can’t be recycled? Anything that cannot be recycled must be disposed of in bin bags with paid stickers and taken to a designated waste collection point. This waste usually gets incinerated and turned into energy, so it’s also being recycled in a way.
The easiest way to get rid of non-recyclable household waste is to sign up for a garbage collection service. But this is pricey in Switzerland, and you can also choose to drop off the bags at certain waste collection points. The only issue is that these collection points are scarce, and depending on where exactly you are in Switzerland, garbage collection might be your only option.
How is Garbage Collected in Swiss Cities?
There are two ways of collecting garbage in Swiss cities. Citizens can sign up for door-to-door garbage collection, which is the most convenient option because they don’t have to take their trash anywhere. The waste collection takes place on designated days, which differ from city to city.
In order to be eligible for door-to-door collection, you must pay for it by purchasing bin bags with taxed stickers. These are available at supermarkets, but you often have to ask for them at the cash register, because at one point they were being stolen quite often. The prices for these bags vary depending on the size and region, and it’s generally cheaper to dispose of the recycled waste yourself.
You can also just drop off your waste at one of the many waste collection points throughout the city, which is what most people do. Use this Switzerland recycling map to see which collection points are closest to you, and make sure that they accept all kinds of waste that you’re planning on recycling.
Just type in the city or zip code where you’re at, and include the type of waste you want to dispose of and the map will show you all the nearest waste collection points.
Recycling Rate in Switzerland
Switzerland’s recycling system might be complex, but it’s extremely effective. The country has one of the highest recycling rates in the world, managing to recycle up to 50% of its municipal solid waste. The remaining waste is usually burned in incinerators and used to produce energy.
One of the main reasons for such a high recycling rate in Switzerland is the astronomical fines. People can be fined up to 10,000 CHF for disposing of waste improperly, and that’s certainly enough incentive to be diligent about recycling. The police have been known to go through the improperly disposed of waste to find bills, letters, or anything that could identify who the waste belongs to so that they can serve them with the appropriate fine!