Swiss supermarkets look to scrap free plastic bags

Supermarkets in Switzerland may voluntarily stop offering customers free plastic bags after a parliamentary commission quashed a motion calling for a total ban.

Swiss supermarkets look to scrap free plastic bags
Coop is among the supermarkets considering the idea. Photo: Coop

Green party politicians reacted in anger on Tuesday after the federal environment commission decided not to ban plastic bags by law.

“Besides its ecological impact, it’s an irresponsible and antidemocratic decision,” said Green MP Adèle Thorens to daily Le Matin.

According to the federal government a ban would not be proportional because “environmental pollution in Switzerland caused by throwing away plastic bags is limited and the ecological benefits of banning them are uncertain”, reported Le Matin.

The commission also argued that instead of instigating a blanket ban on free plastic bags – which would necessitate a change to Swiss environment law – shops should come to their own agreement on the subject.

Patrick Marty, spokesman for Swiss commerce organization IG DHS, told The Local that voluntary action on the part of supermarkets would be a better solution anyway.

“In our opinion we don’t need a specific law,” he said.

“If it’s possible to achieve the objectives in a voluntary manner, then a law won’t be necessary. For us, the traders, it’s an effective solution.”

The IG DHS, which represents shops including Switzerland’s biggest supermarkets, Migros and Coop, has teamed up with the Swiss Retail Federation to launch the idea of withdrawing single-use free plastic bags from food shops in the country.

So far it has 60-70 percent of shops on board, said Marty.  

“At the moment we think we can reduce the volume of plastic bags by 80 percent,” he told The Local, but pointed out that there would have to be exceptions for convenience stores, where purchases are made spontaneously.

“We have done tests and found that in convenience shops, even if plastic bags cost something, there is no reduction in volume.”

“So we must have exceptions, and exceptions would not be possible with a total ban. Because of that I think we can arrange things more effectively with the solution that we propose.”

Switzerland lags behind other countries in Europe on the issue.

France is set to formally ban plastic bags this year though most supermarkets had long stopped offering them under a voluntary agreement dating from 2002.

And a new law in the UK last year banned retailers with more than 250 employees from offering free plastic bags.

So why has Switzerland reacted slowly to the issue?

“It’s clear that the situation regarding pollution created by plastic bags is not as bad as in countries that have coastlines,” Marty told The Local.

“Also, Switzerland has a very efficient rubbish management system. Here, the pollution created by plastic bags is less than one percent of the total volume of plastic.”

Marty added that the voluntary agreement could take up to two years to come into force.

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Can you go shopping from Switzerland to neighbouring countries?

Are Swiss residents allowed to go shopping in border regions now, and under what conditions?

A sign on the Swiss border with France.
Photo: Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

The so-called ‘shopping tourism’ is very popular among Switzerland’s public, as food and many other goods are cheaper in neighbour countries. 

At certain times during the Covid-19 pandemic, crossing the border for non-essential reasons, including shopping, was banned, but far fewer restrictions are in place now.

This is what you should know before you go shopping across the border(s):


As the Lombardy region of Italy is in the red zone since Monday due to a surge in the number of Covid cases, Ticino officials asked federal authorities to strengthen controls at the border.

They noted that “already a year ago, Ticino suffered the first pandemic wave precisely because of the free movement of people from Lombardy”.

This measure, intended primarily to stop Italians from coming into Switzerland, could also impact Swiss residents returning from a shopping trip.

However, Karin Keller Sutter, the head of the Federal Department of Justice and Police, said Switzerland is not planning to implement systematic checks at the Italian borders.

So while theoretically a jaunt across the border is possible, a ‘red zone’ classification means that shops, along with restaurants, schools and museums, are closed.

This is also a situation in Piedmont, another region that borders Ticino.

The only people with unrestricted access both ways are Italian cross-border workers who are employed in Switzerland. 

READ MORE: Which of Switzerland’s neighbouring countries can you enter – and what are the rules?


Swiss residents are not prohibited from entry into France and do not have to quarantine. But arrivals to France will need to provide a negative test result which is not older than 72 hours. 

However, cross-border commuters and people who reside within 30 kilometres of a border area do not need to provide evidence of a test. The evidence that can prove that your residence is within the authorised distance includes an ‘attestation de domicile’ from your local commune or an official envelope with your address on it.

But some shoppers have said that the 30-km requirement is not systematically checked or enforced, because smaller border crossings are unmanned on the French and Swiss side.

In fact, Swiss residents go to France not just for shopping but also to get Covid tests, as they are cheaper than in Switzerland.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Why are Swiss residents going to France to get tested?

Keep in mind too that France has a 6 pm curfew, so you have to return to Switzerland before that time.


Current regulations require a 10 to 14-day quarantine for all arrivals, including from Switzerland.

The only exemptions are for urgent family matters or work, including the cross-border employees.

So no shopping in Austria for the time being.


Travel into Germany from Switzerland is discouraged but not banned. This includes tourist and shopping travel, although tourist accommodation is not allowed to open at present in Germany. 

While you may be allowed to enter, you may also be required to quarantine. 

Whether or not you will have to quarantine depends on which of the 16 German states you are entering. Click here for up to date official information

Both Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria, the two states closest to Switzerland, do not consider shopping to be a valid ‘exception’ – meaning that anyone entering to go shopping will be required to quarantine, which is a great way to spoil a shopping trip. 

If the German state requires you to quarantine, it will last for ten days but can be ended early from the fifth day with a negative test result. 

People entering from Switzerland must have a negative test result of less than 48 hours and must register online

Anyone who visits the state of Thüringen/Thuringia will need to quarantine on their return to Switzerland

Note: This page was updated on March 16th to reflect the updated policies of Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria, both of which consider shopping and tourism not to be valid reasons to avoid coronavirus quarantine. 

Editor’s note: Please keep in mind that this article, as with all of our guides, are to provide assistance only. They are not intended to take the place of official legal advice.