recycling, Switzerland, Europe, WTF?, Zurich

Swiss Recycling

Don't get me wrong: I am all for being eco-friendly, doing my part in saving the planet and all but in this country, recycling is a whole new kettle of fish. To say that the Swiss take it seriously is an understatement. It is a real commitment. 

Coming from Singapore, where we all have an opening in our kitchens to a communal rubbish chute and the convenience of dumping everything in to a bag, tie it up and *plonk*, down it goes into the chute, no muss, no fuss, I had to make quite an adjustment when I got here.

I still remember in my first week in Switzerland, I dutifully took out the trash, only to have the the bin man dump it unceremoniously on the front of our apartment building. It was the height of summer, so naturally, it stank up the place, much to the displeasure of my landlord. "Bloody Ausländers," he muttered under his breath, after telling us that we'd need to get our arses (pronto) to the supermarket and buy special Züri-sacks. Züri what? 

"White! They are white in colour!" he added in exasperation.


I was close to tears after combing COOP (the Swiss supermarket chain) for about 45 minutes for these mysterious "white bags". I JUST WANTED TO THROW AWAY THE DAMN RUBBISH! I finally plucked up the courage to ask the nearest person wearing the COOP uniform, who sighed (probably also thinking "bloody Ausländers!" in her head) and said that these sacks aren't sold on the supermarket floor. They had to be purchased from the customer counter. don't say!

I soon realised why. At 1.70CHF a pop for the 35L bags that come in multiples of ten, it cost 3 times more than the normal roll of black trash bags. The kind lady at the counter explained that the bags costs more as they include duty/tax to be paid by the user in order to send the trash for incineration. Ah ok, I get it now: prime target for shoplifters and cheap asses like me to easily slip into their bags. 

Grudgingly I paid and went home to the unpleasant task of transferring the rubbish into those damn white sacks. Lesson learnt and woohoo, level up for experiencing life in Switzerland. 

Further googling told me that with the exception of food waste and household rubbish, nothing else could be thrown in to these precious bags. No cardboard (that includes the loo rolls, mind you), plastic bottles, wine bottles, batteries, nada. Just household rubbish. You would think that those that I've listed constituted household rubbish. Stop rolling your eyes, I was an ignorant fool. No, those have to be specially disposed of, on certain stipulated dates of the month—not as and when you like. Tough shit if you forget to put them out on the right date, because you'll have to bring them to the recycling centre, which, mind you, not everyone lives within the vicinity of one.

Oh, whilst you are in Switzerland, don't go throwing the green glass bottles together with the brown ones. There are different silos for different types of glass, darlings: white, green and brown glass, and DEFINITELY don't even think of trying to do it on Sundays. This is not an urban legend: someone I know did indeed get a fine of 400CHF for doing just that. Something about the clinking of the bottles when they hit the bottom of the silos that disturb the peace and quiet on Sundays. If only they had similar laws for noisy children.

6 years in, buying these Züri-sacks and stickers (Gebührenmarken) when I changed Gemeindes (each town has a different way of charging), is now part of my routine at the supermarket. I have also gotten used to having a little corner of my kitchen perpetually resembling a mini junk yard. I have to admit that my penchant for online shopping contributed mostly to our pile of cardboard together with egg cartons and cereal boxes. I have also done countless walks of shame, lugging many empty wine bottles to recycle after having a dinner party—and I tend to avoid eye contact in order to avoid being judged for being an alcoholic. I set up notifications on my phone's calendar to be reminded of newspaper/cardboard/old clothing collection dates. Usually 24 hours prior so that I can sit in the kitchen, wasting 30 minutes of my life every month flattening and packing the cartons/newspapers into neat individual stacks. Did I mention that each stack cannot be over 5kg? Don't forget to tie it with recycling twine too. 

A little over the top? Maybe. Painful? Definitely. But it really does become part and parcel of your daily routine. I've also observed that my purchasing habits have been altered. I tend to tell the shoe shop lady in broken German when paying: "nur die Schuhe, ohne Karton für mich, danke!" (only the shoes, no box for me, thanks!). They don't look at me funny. They understand. It has heightened my awareness of unnecessary packaging and unless it is Chanel, I now tend to opt more for practicality over fancy packaging. 

In fact, many shops ask if you would like the packaging or a bag to go with your purchase. I generally say no and tend to just stuff it into my handbag if it is a small enough item. 

I have to admit: this country's policy of making each citizen responsible for their individual waste disposal is very sound. You pay for the volume of crap you dispose of. This may be more difficult for the individual citizen but to advantage the society on the whole: very logical. Very first world. Very efficient. Generally, very Swiss. 

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