For members


Trash talk: What are the rules for garbage disposal in Switzerland?

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.

Trash talk: What are the rules for garbage disposal in Switzerland?
These are the recycling bins for the trash-compliant people in Switzerland. Photo by AFP

A recent post on the expatriate forum caught our eye because it shows that some new arrivals may not know all the intricate details involved in disposing of one’s rubbish in Switzerland.

This person wrote: “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, last year 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.

Also last year, rubbish patrols handed out dozens of 40-franc fines to people in Grenchen, canton Solothurn, for dumping their garbage bags haphazardly in the streets rather than at the official drop-off spots. 

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.

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, aluminum, 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.

Member comments

  1. “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.”

    the following is copied from my last supermarket order (Migros (Swiss))

    “Legal designation
    Sacs à ordures 35L
    Product ID: 56724
    Fr. 2.50
    20 Pieces
    Fr. 0.13 / Piece”

    … please explain …

  2. Thanks to all for comments pointing out to discrepancies in prices. This is now corrected in the article.

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For members


Reader question: How can I find a good lawyer in Switzerland?

Although you hope to never need one, sometimes you might have to seek legal advice in Switzerland. This is how to find it.

Reader question: How can I find a good lawyer in Switzerland?

When you move to a new country, including Switzerland, you have to look for a whole new network of professionals.

You may or may not have immediate need for the proverbial butcher, baker, and the candlestick maker, but sooner or later you will have to find other professionals, with the most essential one being a doctor.

READ MORE: What you should know about finding a doctor in Switzerland

Chances are you will also need, at one time or another, a legal counsel. That should in principle not be a problem as Switzerland has an abundance of lawyers — 7,317 currently practicing in the country, according to European data.

The question of how to find one that best suits your needs depends on many factors — for instance, what kind of legal advice you are seeking (estate planning, inheritance, divorce, etc), whether you speak the language of your region or need an English-speaking attorney,  and whether you can pay (the often exorbitant) fees, or need free counselling instead.

Speaking of fees, the hourly rates vary widely from one lawyer or legal practice to another, with some charging as little as 100 francs or as much as 1,000.

Much depends on the lawyer’s location — with the ones practicing in large cities like Zurich and Geneva being more expensive than their counterparts in small towns or rural regions  — the area of specialisation and general reputation — the more prominent the attorney is with a roster of famous or well-heeled clients, the higher fees they will typically charge.

An important thing to know is that, depending on the advice you are seeking, you may not need a lawyer at all, but rather a public notary; in Switzerland, these professionals perform many tasks that only attorneys can do in other countries, such as drawing contracts and establishing other legal documents.

Here are some tips on how to find a lawyer or a notary that best fits your needs:

Word of mouth

As with any other services, personal recommendations from people you know and trust are best.

This will spare you the effort of “investigating” the person, such as researching their credentials and feedback from previous clients — the due diligence process that everyone should undertake before hiring any professional.

Professional associations

If you don’t know anyone who can recommend an attorney, do your own research.

Professional organisations such as the Swiss Bar Association (SBA) and the Swiss Federation of Notaries are good resources, as they both allow you to look for professionals in or near your place of residence.

English-speaking attorneys

Many Swiss lawyers and notaries, especially those practicing in large urban centres where many foreign residents live, speak English.

But if you want to make sure yours does, the UK government put together a list of English speaking attorneys in Switzerland, which should help you with your search.

‘Free’ legal advice

In principle, all legal assistance comes at a cost, except for exceptional cases, which are defined by each canton.

SBA has a canton-by-canton list, where the designation “GRATIS JUDICATURE” stands for “free legal advice”.

However, there is also such a thing in Switzerland as “legal protection insurance” (Rechtsschutzversicherungen in German, protection juridique in French, and protezione giuridica in Italian).

It covers attorney and other associated fees if you undertake court action against someone, are sued, or simply need legal advice.

There are two different types of legal protection insurance — one specifically for traffic accidents and the other for all other matters. Sometimes they are combined.

Typically, this insurance covers costs of legal representation associated with contract disputes, employment, loans and debts, healthcare, housing, retail purchases, and travel.

The annual cost of this insurance, which you can purchase from practically every carrier in Switzerland, is minimal, especially if you consider how much you’d have to spend if you hired an attorney yourself.

Another benefit of these policies is that a lawyer will be assigned to you by the insurance company so you won’t have the headache of looking for one on your own.

This article provides more information about this insurance:

EXPLAINED: Why you need ‘legal protection insurance’ in Switzerland