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Environment For Members

What are Switzerland's rules for waste disposal and recycling?

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
What are Switzerland's rules for waste disposal and recycling?
These are the recycling bins for the trash-compliant people in Switzerland. Photo by AFP

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.

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Some new arrivals may not know all the intricate details involved in disposing of one’s rubbish in Switzerland, as this post on an expat forum reminded us:

“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, 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.

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 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.

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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, aluminium 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.

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Comments (3)

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Anonymous 2022/01/13 12:45
Thanks to all for comments pointing out to discrepancies in prices. This is now corrected in the article.
Anonymous 2020/08/25 12:10
Yeah, the prices don't seem to be right. E.g., check Coop in Zurich:<br />1) 17 litres, 10x: Fr. 10.50 (https://www.coop.ch/en/household/household-kitchen/waste-disposal/waste-bag-charge/zueri-sack-zuerich-taxed-garbage-bags-35-litres-10-pieces/p/3384870)<br />2) 35 litres, 10x: Fr. 20.20 (https://www.coop.ch/en/household/household-kitchen/waste-disposal/waste-bag-charge/zueri-sack-zuerich-taxed-garbage-bags-35-litres-10-pieces/p/3384870)
Anonymous 2020/08/17 12:10
"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."<br /><br />the following is copied from my last supermarket order (Migros (Swiss))<br /><br />"Legal designation<br />Sacs à ordures 35L<br />Product ID: 56724<br />Fr. 2.50<br />20 Pieces<br />Fr. 0.13 / Piece"<br /><br /><br />... please explain ...<br /><br /><br /><br /><br />

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