How Switzerland Solved Their Garbage Problem Is Beyond Amazing

Switzerland is a country that’s kept incredibly clean. Here, ’pollution prevention’ is a philosophy tweaked to perfection. The Swiss are used to sorting everything that can be sorted.

During the 1980s, the country faced an ecological disaster: all the rivers and lakes were contaminated with phosphates and nitrates, the earth was exposed to heavy metals, and people generated a huge amount of garbage on a monthly basis. The Swiss realized they had a problem, and urgent measures had to be implemented.

Sorting the trash into different categories appeared to be the most effective method. New rules were drawn up, and no exceptions were made — everyone now had to put their garbage into different containers.

garbage problem solving

For example, in order to dispose of a used tea bag, you had to do the following: the label went into the trash can for cardboard, and the bag itself went into the one marked ’paper’; the tea leaves went to the compost heap, the metal staple ended up in the ’waste metal’ container, and the thread or string went to a marked garbage bag. You probably would say that this must have been a joke — but you don’t live in Switzerland. Those who don’t follow the rules have to pay a fine.

As a result, every day, the Swiss recycle:

  • 70% of paper used in the country.
  • A huge amount of cardboard. (Paper and cardboard are recycled separately as recycling of the latter is more expensive).
  • Electric batteries. 60% of all batteries sold in Switzerland are handed back in after usage. They never throw them into the trash.
  • Glass. Switzerland is leading the pack in terms of the number of returned bottles — more than 90% of bottles are taken back to waste/glass recycling plants. Furthermore, the Swuss have to take off the caps and sort bottles and cans depending on the color of the glass.
  • Plastic bottles. 71% of them are recycled.
  • Cans. They should be previously pressed with a special magnetic press. 70% of cans are recycled.
  • Aluminum cans. Separate from regular cans; 90% of them are recycled.
  • Daylight lamps.
  • Animal carcasses. There is a charge for this and it’s forbidden to bury animals yourself.
  • Vegetable oil.
  • Motor oil is separate from vegetable oil. An additional point is that it’s prohibited to change oil in personal automobiles as well. It should be done at a service station for an additional charge.
  • Composted waste: food by-products, plants, cat by-products, cat litter, ashes, wood, dust, leaves, branches, and so on.
  • Neutral household materials such as stones and china.
  • Expired medications.

garbage problem solving

People can still throw garbage into trash cans, but they’ll have to pay a tax that’s collected for every pound of waste. A special stamp is put on each of the plastic garbage bags, showing that the tax was paid. It costs 2 or 3 CHF to dispose of 11 pounds (5 kilos) of junk.

If you fail to pay the tax, the trash police (yes, they’re actually called this, believe it or not) open up each bag without the stamp and look for any evidence to find its owner. A fine for such reckless behavior amounts to 10,000 CHF.

However, this approach to recycling proved to be very successful, not because of high fines and fear of the trash police, but thanks to concerned citizens. Indeed, if you see everyone around efficiently sorting trash, it would be a good example for you to do the same.


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