Life Lately, and Swiss Waste Disposal

Lately I’ve been enjoying some really simple things, like walking around the neighborhood, cooking, and buying new things for our apartment. As of this week, our apartment has two new items: a large rustic-looking wooden table and an L-shaped sofa. We decided those would be our two key pieces that we’d spend a bit more on, and they seem to really fill the space nicely. The delivery men from the Pfister store arrived at 7:00 am this morning with the sofa. Way too early, but now it’s there and I spent most of the morning lounging on it with my laptop, reading and writing. Neither of the delivery men spoke any English so it was quite funny. I did my best, but am hoping that my German will improve after I get a four-hour dose of German every week day, starting this Monday.

New Table

One thing here that is currently fascinating me is the Swiss system of waste disposal and recycling. First of all, you can’t just buy any kind of trash bag for your household waste. You have to buy the Züri-Sack. In Switzerland, they definitely make use of the “polluter pays” principle. The Züri-Sack is expensive: it costs around $2 for one 35-liter bag (9 gallons), which means when you get a roll of 10 bags, you’re forking out about 20 bucks. So what happens? You stuff that thing until it really, I mean really, cannot fit anything more. And let me tell you, they fill up very fast. Which means you eventually end up putting more thought into your consumption, and maybe even consuming less, because you don’t want to buy more trash bags. It works very well. And when it’s filled up, what do you do? You certainly don’t place it on the side of the street, and nope, there isn’t a container to place it in outside your front door. You actually have to take it somewhere yourself! In the Niederdorf area where we live, we bring it to what I can only describe it as an inconspicuous metal tube that sticks out of the ground. It has a lid with a handle on top. You drop in the full Züri-Sack and it disappears underground into the tube like magic. If you don’t follow these rules, the city of Zürich will figure out some way to fine you. It’s not that hard because everyone seems to follow the rules here. I once saw someone who casually threw a piece of paper on the street (aka litter). An older woman walking behind him saw it, frowned, and then she went and picked it up! The streets are indeed amazingly clean here.

My Züri-Sack, getting full.

It works the same with recycling, except I need to separate it properly. I separate the green glass from the white glass from the brown glass (there seem to be more glass containers than plastic ones here). Plastic bottles and metal also have their own special place. So after I’ve had a party, for example, I put all of the bottles in bags and walk five minutes to another centralized area to dispose of recyclable items, where separate containers exist for each different kind of item. While it seems like a pain in the ass, and sometimes it is, it means that there are no trash bags or bulky containers outside on the side of the street (and probably no rats either?), and no noisy garbage trucks driving around. I also feel like it’s a lot more clear what to recycle and what to not recycle compared to my experiences on the east coast in the US (I’d like to think there are more progressive states out west). I’m also less likely to throw the recyclables away because I’ll fill up my Züri-Sack faster!

All of this has made me wonder whether the United States will ever get to this point. I think it takes a lot of organization but in my opinion, it’s so important to engage people in these processes so they realize how much they actually throw away. Only then will behavioral change occur.


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