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Waste Management Efficiency In Switzerland Is Mind-Blowing

Swiss waste collectors employ some peculiar methods to catch those that don’t respect recycling standards, and it’s better not to mess with them.

As more countries commit to sustainability goals, working out how exactly to make the system run smoothly on a national level can be a challenge. For one, people are slow to change their habits and lifestyles, and it might be difficult to persuade them to do the right thing for the environment.

Luckily, some countries have already figured it out, as is the case with Switzerland – a shining example of waste management that actually works.

The first European country to introduce waste management regulations, Switzerland, now has one of the highest rates of recycling worldwide!
Over half of household waste is recycled, and the country is committed to bringing this share even higher – to 60%.

If you look at the recovery rates of various materials by type, the numbers might be even more impressive. For instance, 96% of glass is collected and 91% of aluminum. Aside from these two materials, paper, cardboard, organic waste, plastic, steel, textiles, batteries, and hazardous waste are all separately collected as well.

What happens to the remaining garbage? All unsorted trash goes to incinerators for energy recovery. In fact, around 3% of the electricity used in Switzerland is produced this way. But it took some trial and error over the course of 70 years to achieve these goals.

Swiss know-how: from unchecked pollution to fairytale pastures

As early as the mid-1950s, Swiss society faced the harmful consequences of uncontrolled landfilling. Switzerland’s pristine lakes and lush landscape were being mindlessly polluted, which caused major sanitation problems and degradation of land. This was when the first environmental protection laws were put in place, and the on-going journey towards a clean sustainable future began.

Since then the country managed to completely abolish landfills and restore the previously contaminated locations back to their trademark idyllic look. These days Switzerland is a textbook example of waste management done right, and this is how they managed to achieve the impressive feat.

Harsh rules and hefty fines keep waste disposal in check

From an outsider’s point of view, the laws on garbage collection might seem strict and perplexing at the same time. Each household is responsible for properly disposing of their own refuse, which can be quite a chore since various material types are often collected at different locations and on different days.

While recycling is mostly free, taking care of mixed trash is a different matter. The exact rules vary from one municipality to another, but normally it is required to use either special bags that are priced according to their size or stickers that serve as proof of payment for the service.

Attempting to cheat the system is ill-advised since the ways to identify the culprits can be inventive and ruthless. Waste collectors will open the unmarked bags and rummage through the contents for anything that can lead to the hapless owners: bills, receipts, personal details. With fines that can go as high as $10,000, it is no wonder that the locals are so keen on recycling.

Produce less trash or recycle more? Why not both!

However, Switzerland is far from fully living up to sustainability ideals, despite the impressive success in waste management. Surprisingly, it is notorious for having one of the world’s highest rates of waste per capita. Each Swiss citizen generates an average of 712 kg of rubbish annually – and the amount has reportedly tripled over the past 25 years, causing experts to voice their concerns.

After all, a recycling system, no matter how effective, can only be one part of the solution, and at the moment it seems to cover up the problem of consumerism, instead of tackling it directly.

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