For members


What are Switzerland’s rules for waste disposal and recycling?

The Swiss are meticulous when it comes to waste disposal and, not surprisingly, they have strict regulations on how to throw away trash in an environmentally correct manner.

What are Switzerland's rules for waste disposal and recycling?
These are the recycling bins for the trash-compliant people in Switzerland. Photo by AFP

A recent post on the expatriate forum caught our eye because it shows that some new arrivals may not know all the intricate details involved in disposing of one’s rubbish in Switzerland.

This person wrote: “The agency that rented me the flat sent me a letter with pictures of my opened garbage where they identified me by my personal documents. They sent me a fine to pay because I have not correctly separated the garbage.

“How legal is this action to open garbage and identify me?”

Clearly, this person is not aware that throwing away all their waste in a trash bag without segregating it is an offence in Switzerland.

For instance, mixing PET bottles with tin cans or paper can result in heavy fines, the amount of which is determined by each individual commune.

And yes, municipal workers have the right to go through trash bags to identify garbage offenders.

For example, last year a woman in the Lausanne area was fined 190 francs after she allegedly put out her garbage on a Wednesday. Under local by-laws, rubbish can only be placed on the street for collection on Mondays.

Her bag had been opened and a bill had been found in her name, allowing garbage detectives to identify her.

Also last year, rubbish patrols handed out dozens of 40-franc fines to people in Grenchen, canton Solothurn, for dumping their garbage bags haphazardly in the streets rather than at the official drop-off spots. 

There are also certain rules for particular types of seasonal waste. Christmas trees, for instance, are not to be put in organic waste/compost in most parts of the country (but not all). 

Reader question: How do I dispose of my Christmas tree in Zurich?

This kind of over-zealous approach is not necessarily the norm in all Swiss communes, but it is better to be informed and follow the rules than risk a fine.

Remember: garbage is a serious matter in Switzerland. These are the things to keep in mind.

You can’t use just any bag to dispose of your trash. Each canton has either specially designated bags, priced according to their size (35, 60, or 100 litres), or a sticker to be affixed to a bag.  Taxes collected from the sale of these bags are used for municipal waste management.

The bags are available in all supermarkets, grocery and convenience stores. However, you may not find them on the shelves and you will have to ask for them at the cash register. The reason is that the bags are expensive (though prices vary from one canton to another) and people have been stealing them.

Just as an example, a pack of ten 35-litre bags costs 20.20 francs in Zurich and 19.50 francs in Vaud, so prices for bags, or stickers, are not uniform through Switzerland.

You should not throw away your recyclables, including PET bottles, glass, cardboard, paper, tins, aluminum, and batteries, into the trash bag. Instead, they must go into a specially designated collection point in your commune of residence.

This map shows where the one closest to you is located.

Follow all these rules and you will never have to worry about trash police knocking on your door.

Member comments

  1. “The bags are available in all supermarkets, grocery and convenience stores. However, you may not find them on the shelves and you will have to ask for them at the cash register. The reason is that the bags are expensive – over 30 francs for 10 of the smallest-sized ones— and people have been stealing them.”

    the following is copied from my last supermarket order (Migros (Swiss))

    “Legal designation
    Sacs à ordures 35L
    Product ID: 56724
    Fr. 2.50
    20 Pieces
    Fr. 0.13 / Piece”

    … please explain …

  2. Thanks to all for comments pointing out to discrepancies in prices. This is now corrected in the article.

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Five tips to help you make the most out of life in Switzerland

Whether you’re in Switzerland for a short time or you’ve committed to the country for the long haul, here are five tips to make your time in Switzerland count.

Five tips to help you make the most out of life in Switzerland

Head to your Gemeinde

The fastest way to feel at home away from home and make sure you don’t miss out on key events is to get to know your immediate surroundings. In Switzerland, your municipality is your best bet if you want to find out the who’s who and what’s what in your area.

Feel free to arm yourself with a notebook and ask your Gemeinde to provide you with a list of your municipality’s societies, associations, sports, and social clubs, as well as events you can join and partake. Some city administrations will be kind enough to include important information on neighbouring municipalities too.

Join a Verein

The Swiss are known to be reserved, quiet people who nurture early childhood friendships for life. While sweet, this can make finding friends in Switzerland a challenge for new arrivals – but it needn’t be so hard. One great way of befriending locals and feel more part of Swiss everyday life is to sign up to so-called Vereins (clubs) which are frequented by the Swiss on the regular. The good thing?

You can pick any one interest you have, be it an orchestra Verein, a Vespa Verein or even a Verein for new parents, and foster your language skills by discussing topics you have a keen interest in with like-minded people.

You can find a list of clubs here.

Use Swiss-backed apps to plan your day

Living in Switzerland means the great outdoors are always just a stone’s throw away, but despite the many – and carefully planned – hiking trails, it is prudent you stay safe even in a country renowned for its safety. One app the Swiss love to rely on for safety outdoors is SwissAlert. The app not only lets you know of any weather and natural disasters in your area, but it will also inform you of their consequences as well as other important changes (such as disruptions to public transport).

Those looking to make the most out of their everyday life should also download the Swiss Post App to check post office opening times, track a parcel’s whereabouts and check if there’s anything waiting for you in the mail. Other handy apps are the SBB app to keep on top of any train information, and which acts as a phone book, weather forecast, map, and TV guide all in one.

Explore local favourites

Whether you’ve asked your local municipality, a Swiss friend or simply googled a few local tips, start to get to know your new home by exploring the best your town has to offer to make you feel that bit more positive about your relocation.

In Basel, the Hotel Drei Könige is rumoured to serve the city’s finest breakfast while you can enjoy the best coffee and croissants combo at the young Kult bakery at Riehentorstrasse 18 and Elsässerstrasse 43. In the evenings, crowds gather by the Rhine for drinks, food, and a merry time.

Those living in Zurich are well advised to grab a coffee at Café Boy. The modern café is a local favourite for a reason: its produce and meat are regionally sourced and always fresh. In wintertime, locals also love to spend time at one of the city’s top three saunas: Stadtbad Zürich, City Hallenbad, or Seebad Enge.

If you fancy yourself a quick bite in Lausanne, locals swear by the food trucks stationed at Place de la Riponne. For those not in the mood for international dishes, the Café de l’Eveché near the city’s cathedral offers classic Swiss cuisine such as rösti and fondue.

Meanwhile, Geneva’s Eaux-Vives is arguably the best area to wind down after a long day’s work with ample food and drink options right by the lake. Another insider tip perfect for a Friday night date is the Café Marius which serves outstanding organic wine coupled with a great atmosphere.

Getting around

If you’re looking to save money, time, and make the most of your life in Switzerland, it is essential you get well acquainted with the SBB CFF FFS, Switzerland’s railway company. Lucky for you, Switzerland’s SBB is recognised as one of Europe’s chief train operators and connects around 2,600 stations and stops across the country – making getting around a breeze!

With SBB CFF FFS, you can pay for “Sparbillette” – or so-called Supersaver tickets – and benefit from an up to 70 percent discount on the standard ticket price. Travellers can choose from one-way tickets to day passes but will be limited to a few select routes and times. The trick is to book as early as possible to snag the best deal.

For frequent travellers, SBB’s GA Travelcard at an annual cost of 3,860 francs for adults is your most cost-effective option by a landslide. The travelcard allows you to travel on public transport throughout Switzerland for “free” and you can even get 5 francs off on short-term bike rentals at 20 SBB stations.

If you don’t want to hand over quite that much money, a great way of reducing your transport cost is to purchase SBB’s Half Fare Travelcard. The travelcard costs 120 francs per year and gives you an up to 50 percent discount on all travel by train, bus, boat, and most mountain railways.