Recycling in Switzerland

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Swisstory blogger Jessica Cartwright sorts out the recycling in Zurich, and gets to the bottom of why rubbish 'saeckes' are so tiny.

If there is one thing I am constantly in awe of when it comes to living in Switzerland, it is the Swiss’ commitment to reducing waste and recycling. The Swiss take recycling to a whole new level, and I am still trying to figure out the ins and outs. For starters, they recycle EVERYTHING. I almost feel bad if I don't pick apart my yoghurt containers and recycle the aluminum tops and plastic separately. I know, I need to do my part to 'go green' and not screw up the system, so I'm trying my best to learn where it all goes.

Zurich's list of recyclables is so long that it folds out into 16 pages. Ok, so maybe it's not that big, but when you have rules and drop-off locations and schedules for recycling anything imaginable, there's bound to be a lot of details.

For the first time this week, I also noticed that there are community compost bins, where you can take your food waste to be composted for the good of the community. You remember that green goodness in the soil that I talked about, that makes such delicious strawberries - must be the community compost.

Zurich recycles (or has disposal instructions for) the following:

  • Paper and cardboard - Paper gets bundled up monthly and collected. Make sure you tie it up neatly and leave it on the curb on the allocated day. Just put it out there when you see the piles lining up! There are containers for cardboard in most neighbourhoods, or you can take the cardboard back to the store of purchase for large items like electronics.
  • Compost - This is genius: take your old banana peels and apple cores to the community compost! I wish I knew what they did with that stuff. Then again, Switzerland sure is green so it probably goes straight back into the soil somewhere.

  • PET bottles - These go back to the store, look for the PET containers either outside or near the beverages in your supermarket.
  • Glass - There are containers for green, brown, and clear glass usually near the supermarket or centrally located in your neighbourhood.
  • Tins - Usually containers for tin cans are next to the glass containers. Look for the word 'Dosen'.
  • Regular household waste - Goes in the saecke that you buy from the supermarket or post office, some regions use stickers instead. The bags are so tiny – why? Because you're supposed to recycle, silly, that's why! But you can get the bags in three sizes.
  • Other - For the rest of it all, there are places to take your old oil, batteries, Styrofoam, electronics, poison, textiles and even cadavers (oh my! I think it's just animals though). Visit your local Gemeide (city hall) for instructions if you did not get them when you moved in.

Now in case you need help figuring out where to drop off items in Zurich, check out this helpful recycling map on Google Maps. This is really helpful for general, everyday recycling, and for those items that you might have to bring to the dump.

Text and photos: Jessica Cartwright of Swisstory
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2 Comments To This Article

  • Editor, Expatica CH posted:

    on 3rd August 2010, 10:48:24 - Reply

    Dear Michelle,

    For more information on recycling in Zurich, you can contact the Disposal and Recycling Department (ERZ Entsorgung Recycling Zürich) at 004 645 77 77. I hope this is helpful -- best of luck!

    Editor, Expatica CH
  • Michelle posted:

    on 2nd August 2010, 11:06:58 - Reply

    I just moved to Zurich last week and am surprised by their apparent lack of recycling. I can't seem to find where to recycle yogurt containers, milk and juice boxes, nor can I find a local compost box. I'm accustomed to recycling all of this in Colorado and dislike having to throw it away. Thanks for any insight!