Switzerland – The Land of Alps, Watches, Chocolate and …. Extreme Recycling

By Paula Zevin

Garbage Ball Geneva

Garbage Ball Geneva

Everyone knows how serious we are about recycling and its benefits at EPA. The past decade has shown that we can change our mindset and adapt to change: throwing things away without a second thought is a thing of the past. If you need a reminder, check out the EPA community website, which contains so much valuable information on helping to protect our environment and our recycling resource page.

We also have heard or even seen how much more serious Europe in general is about the 3-R mantra. “Reduce, reuse and recycle” is not just a buzz phrase; it is a way of life in the Old World, which in many cases is way ahead of the United States. Switzerland was one of these revelations. The occasion to visit this beautiful country came about almost as an afterthought to attending my 40th high school reunion in Heidelberg, Germany in June of this year. Reunions can be fun, but also stressful, so a little R&R in the beautiful cities of Zurich and Geneva seemed just what the doctor ordered. And it was! Past and present blend seamlessly, the scenery is truly breathtaking, the friendly locals made us feel welcome and it didn’t hurt to be able to sample delicious chocolate, raclette and Movenpick ice cream!

As an EPAer, I never quite leave the environmentalist behind. The sight of so many distinctive bags all over Zurich piqued my curiosity. So I asked at our hotel. The answer, “Oh, they are our special waste/recycling bags” led to some investigating and some illuminating answers. They’re called “Züri-Säcke” or “Zuri-Bags” and according to the city’s website, about 30,000 are picked up daily. What Zurichers don’t recycle at the ubiquitous drop-off points for plastic, glass, etc, must go into these special bags. The catch is that they are quite expensive. The bigger the bag, the more you pay. If you’re not already so inclined, the incentive to reduce, reuse and recycle becomes purely economic. In addition to familiar advice, such as dropping off your electronics, textiles and other household items at recycling centers, such as we have in my home county of Somerset, NJ, you are encouraged to take all your outdated or broken electrical appliances back to the store where you bought them – they are obligated to accept them at no charge to you! The advice is given in a gentle, yet firm way. Check out the English website for how to deal with modern life’s trappings.

Recycling Advertisement

Recycling Advertisement

Geneva does things in a similar manner, noting with pride that “Genevans recycled 45% of their waste in 2011 up from 37% in 2003 (recycling in the city of Geneva is lower, at only 36.2% in 2011).” For more information on this and on Geneva’s recycling programs visit the English language website.

Geneva took the visual impact of being environmentally responsible to a different level. They are displaying a ball of garbage weighing 35 tons at Place du Plainpalais in Geneva. This was after officials started a campaign to encourage citizens to dispose of their garbage responsibly. The 35-tons of garbage represent the amount of waste that is collected from public trash cans over a period of three days.

We are doing so much already in New York City and in the surrounding areas to reduce, reuse and recycle. These glimpses into another culture remind us that the work is never done and that it is upon us to do it.

About the Author: Paula Zevin is currently an Environmental Engineer in the Division of Environmental Science and Assessment at the Edison Environmental Center. Her work is centered on the technical and programmatic aspects of ambient water monitoring. She is also the volunteer water monitoring coordinator for EPA Region 2. Paula has been with EPA since 1991, and has worked in the chemical, pharmaceutical, textile and cosmetic industries prior to joining EPA. 

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