Environment For Members

Reader question: How do I recycle plastics in Switzerland?

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
Reader question: How do I recycle plastics in Switzerland?
Public sorted waste bins in Geneva. Photo by Thomas COEX / AFP

Recycling culture is very strong in Switzerland, with special bins for various kinds of trash available practically everywhere, either on streets or in communal dumpsters. But disposing of plastics is sometimes a problem.


Recycling bins are a common sight in all Swiss towns and villages.

They have separate slots for PET bottles, glass, cardboard, paper, tins, aluminium, and batteries. There are also some where fruit and vegetables can be composted.

All this to say that being environmentally friendly is easy in Switzerlans — and most people are.

According the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN), which is responsible for waste management in Switzerland, the country’s overall recycling rate is about 53 percent — one of the highest in the world.

The 47 percent who don’t bother to recycle are not only irresponsible, but they also are breaking municipal laws that mandate that trash must be correctly segregated before disposal.

What this means is that no items that should be recycled — as those mentioned above — should be thrown into garbage bags.

Municipal workers have the right to go through trash bags to identify garbage offenders — and they do.

Failing to comply with the recycling rule can (if you identified through trash bag search — result in heavy fines, the amount of which is determined by each individual commune.

READ ALSO: Why the Swiss government rummages through your garbage 

The matter of plastics

Some mistakes, however, could be caused by simply not knowing how or where to recycle certain items, like plastics.
That’s because rules are not clear enough about the correct way of disposing of this particular material.

As one reader pointed out, there are "no plastic recycling bins to put it in. What are we supposed to do with plastic?"

That’s a good question, considering that, according to FOEN,780,000 tonnes of plastic waste is generated each year in Switzerland.

Out of that, “around 80,000 tonnes are recycled. In contrast to many other countries, Switzerland has not used landfill sites for combustible waste since the year 2000,” FOEN says. "Therefore, all plastic waste must be recycled or incinerated in an environmentally compatible manner."


So what should households do with their plastic waste, given that no special recycling bins exist?

There are different rules for different type of plastics

Much depends on what you need to dispose of.

If you have PET bottles, you will find a recycling bin especially for them.

Bottles should be flattened before you throw them down the shoot.

When it comes to containers that are not marked ‘PET’, but which have tops — for instance, milk cartons, shampoo bottles, and laundry or dishwasher detergent containers — they should be brought back to supermarkets for recycling.

Grocery stores typically have special disposal chutes for these containers.

And you can bring these items to any supermarket in Switzerland, not necessarily to the one you purchased them from.

There are also plastic containers in which food is sold; typically, you will find a trash bag sign on them, meaning you can throw them out with regular waste because they are biodegradable.


Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

Please log in to leave a comment.

See Also