Are you 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 separate your trash properly!
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 ensure you follow all the rules. And don’t worry – recycling in Switzerland is easy, and sometimes, you only need to take the waste to your front door!
Table of Contents
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 emptied by a particular service. So, before you start collecting yours, check you have such a bin outside your apartment or house.
Most people collect the green waste in a smaller green bin inside. They leave it 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 regular plastic bags, throw them away in the trash.
Food and garden waste includes
- fruit & veggies
- coffee grounds & tea leaves
- peelings & eggshells
- wilted flowers, grass cuttings, and small branches.
In some places (but not everywhere!) organic waste also includes meat and fish bones, and Christmas trees. Although most of the time, Christmas tree collection is on a particular day of the year.
Paper and Cardboard
Paper and cardboard is recycled all over Switzerland. How it is done depends on your region and community.
Many municipalities separate the paper from the cardboard. But others don’t. So, you will have to check the rules for your specific municipality.
Important: You can’t recycle extremely glossy paper or any 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, you should cut it off before getting rid of it.
My local community requires you to tie it all up in bundles with string on specific days of the year (they give you those in a leaflet). That is in Aargau. However, I noticed many others have specific paper & cardboard bins for each house or apartment block, which is much easier.
Paper and cardboard can also be recycled at waste collection points.
Tetrapak cartons (like fruit juices, some milk etc) should be separated from other paper and cardboard waste. Some municipalities have specific Tetrapak collection bins because Tetrapak has an aluminum layer on the inside that can’t be recycled with other cardboard. These containers will always have a Tetrapak symbol on the bottom you can check.
Plastic Material (PET Bottles etc)
Plastic materials other than PET and other plastic bottles have to be taken back to the supermarket.
You can recycle most hard plastic bottles, such as
- cleaning products
- shower gels
- plastic deodorants
With is a Swiss-wide system of bags called Sammel Sack, you can collect almost all of your plastic and bring it to your local recycling center. We were only made aware of it in the last few years, meaning we had very little trash each month.
You can go to their website to find out where you can buy the bags and where to take them when they are full.
Just be aware you can’t dispose of plastic bags, plates, and cutlery in the sammel sack. There’s no explanation why that is, and it’s best to avoid buying these items altogether, at least if you want to prevent a pile-up of non-recyclable trash in your home.
Electronic and Electrical Equipment
Electrical and electronic equipment such as old vacuums, TVs, and computers can all be recycled. You can usually bring these items into the stores that sell electronics, and they will take the waste off your hands.
The system is set up so you pay a small fee for recycling electronics when you buy them. So, any store that sells them has to take anything electronic back.
I take them into Fust or Interdiscount and they collect them for recycling. You can take them to almost any electronic store, but I find the bigger ones are better set up to deal with it.
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 with 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 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.
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 different 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 remove any labels, especially 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 buy some groceries, 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. Donating these items to various charity organizations is possible, 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 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.
The easiest way to eliminate 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 occurs on designated days, which differ from city to city.
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 they accept all kinds of waste you plan 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 incredibly 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 wrongly 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!