We dissect the socialism of Swiss trash bags.
Hey all you patriotic American tea-bagger conservatives who see that our president is obviously a “socialist” because he infringes on your right to get sick without healthcare — you want a really scary example of socialism?
When I put out our little trash bag by the curb today, it cost us 2 francs (about $2.20). Two of the little grey plastic bags would have cost 4 francs. These bags are what Americans call “tall kitchen bags.” With typical Swiss precision, here we call them 35-liter bags.
On January 1st, the beautiful and normally reasonable canton of Neuchâtel, where I live, put into effect a law requiring residents to put out their trash only in these expensive little grey plastic bags that had gone on sale shortly before.
American readers may be shocked at this obscene infringement upon personal freedom. How can local government (a Swiss canton is politically equivalent to a U.S. state) possibly dictate what kind of freakin’ garbage bag we citizens use?
Until 2012, here in Neuchâtel we could stuff our trash into any old bag, but most of us bought the black plastic bags that seemed to be the only ones available in stores. They cost little enough so I never noticed, which is pretty remarkable here in Switzerland where the cost of nearly everything still occasionally makes me swoon.
The astronomical cost of our new trash bags here in Canton Neuchâtel is due to the best of all possible reasons. It is meant to protect the environment by encouraging people to recycle more and throw away less. And after one month, it would appear to be working. Trash volume has been cut nearly in half, according to local newspaper, L’Express. This in a country where recycling is already second nature, with recycling bins for glass, plastic and paper at grocery stores, train stops, crossroads, all over the place.
And yet, the normally law-abiding Swiss are not all on board with the expensive grey sac coup. L’Express reports that, since the law went into effect, one garbage bag in ten doesn’t conform. These contraband bags are either the previously respectable, inexpensive black bags or worse, icky little plastic bags we put our mushrooms in at the grocery store. Obviously, this won’t do. So the canton has hired workers to manually open and go through our non-conforming bags, looking for our address. Then they’ll send us a warning letter, and if we persist in our anarchic ways, we can be fined.
We have learned our lesson. Now we’ll only put our I.D. jetsam into a conforming grey bag.