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READER QUESTIONS

Reader question: How can I dispose of electric appliances in Switzerland?

Whether it’s an old microwave or broken vacuum cleaner, sooner or later you will have to get rid your home of electric equipment. There are rules about how you can (and can’t) do this in Switzerland.

Reader question: How can I dispose of electric appliances in Switzerland?
Don't throw this broken smartphone into trash. Photo by Laura Rivera on Unsplash

There used to be a time when broken appliances were repaired and reused, but this is no longer done, at least not frequently. Most of the time it is cheaper to buy a replacement than to have old appliances fixed.

That is why we live in the so-called ‘disposable’ or ‘throw-away’ society — a real catastrophe for the environment.

You may be tempted to just toss away smaller items like hairdryers, or hand-held blenders and mixers, into the trash. But that is not the proper, or environmentally friendly, way of disposal.The reason is that electronics contain toxic chemicals that can, if not properly disposed of, leak and contaminate groundwater and soil.

In fact, this action is punishable by a fine (the amount of which is determined by each commune).

And if you think nobody will ever know, you are wrong.

True, chances that you will be found out are slim, but not totally non-existent: municipal workers have the right to go through trash bags to see what’s in them, and will look for clues therein to identify (and fine) garbage offenders.

So what do you do with all the electrical equipment that you no longer use?

This being Switzerland, where the so-called “recycling culture” is highly developed, each commune has various collection / drop off points for electronics.

Obviously, smaller items are easier to transport to a collection venue than large, bulky, and heavy ones. Unless you have a very big car and lots of muscle, you will not be able to carry refrigerators or washing machines yourself — nor are you expected to.

When you buy a new fridge or another large and heavy appliance, you will have it delivered. The old one will be taken away (probably for extra fee) to a recycling location.

Smaller electrical and electronic appliances are easier to dispose of because you can carry them yourself. There are two ways of doing this.

Items like microwaves, vacuum cleaners, and any other small appliance, can be brought to any store selling products of the same type. Shops have an obligation to take back all such appliances free of charge,  regardless of whether they had been purchased there or not.

Your other option is to take these items to your community’s collection point / recycling centre, which have special places just for electrical appliances.

All communes make such facilities available to their residents — not just for electrical items but for all kinds of trash big and small, including PET bottles, paper, cardboard, glass, plastic, batteries, as well as organic waste / compost. 

If you don’t know where your nearest collection point is, this map will help.

READ MORE: Trash talk: What are the rules for garbage disposal in Switzerland?

If you are not sure which devices are considered as electric, basically it is any equipment that has a plug: refrigerators; freezers; air conditioners, TVs and other entertainment equipment, gardening and fitness machines; computers; and telecommunications.

You will find that the collection points have special bins not just for appliances and electronics, but separate ones for electric wires and plugs as well.
 

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For members

READER QUESTIONS

Reader question: What happens if I don’t pay my Swiss bills on time?

Switzerland is not the only country where you should pay invoices in a timely manner, as this is expected elsewhere as well. But what happens if you pay late — or not at all?

Reader question: What happens if I don't pay my Swiss bills on time?

What might be different in Switzerland compared to other nations is the way you pay your bills.
 
For instance, while cheques are still commonly used in some countries for payments, this method is practically non-existent in Switzerland.
 
Instead, this is done by a bank transfer — a pretty efficient process with your payment usually carried out within 24 hours during the week, though it can take longer on weekends.
 
An even quicker — as in instantaneous — payment can be made by Twint, but most businesses don’t offer this option for your monthly payments; it is used mostly in restaurants, some shops, or to transfer money by phone from one individual to another.
 
READ MORE: Cashless payments in Switzerland: What is Twint and how does it work?

Paying bills online

Once you receive a bill by mail or online, you typically have 30 days to pay it.

Since October of this year, QR-coded pay slips have replaced the old ones — as the name suggests, these black and white forms include QR codes, rather than bank account numbers and other information that you had to input manually before.

You can scan the code using a mobile app from your bank. Once you do, the data will be automatically transmitted to your e-banking.

This article explains how the system works:

EXPLAINED: What you should know about Switzerland’s new slips for paying bills online 

This process is fairly simple once you get the hang of it, but what happens if you don’t make the payment on time — that is, within the 30-day period?

It depends on how late you are.

If you miss your initial deadline, the company will send you a gentle reminder (along with another QR-coded pay slip), telling you that if you don’t pay this time around, the new bill will include interest and administrative fees.

If that goes unpaid as well, the next step is more serious: the company will send you, by registered mail, summons for payment from the debt enforcement office in your canton, giving you 20 days to settle.

At this point, if you feel you don’t owe the company any money, you can contest the debt either orally or in writing when the summons is delivered. or by going to the debt enforcement office within 10 days of receiving the summons.

What happens next?

This is how the official government site explains the process: “By filing an objection, you are potentially proposing that the matter be settled by court proceedings. You are telling the creditor that you do not recognise the debt and that the creditor must apply to court if they wish to continue enforcing the debt.

“After the objection is filed, a court decides, at the creditor’s request, whether the debt enforcement process should continue. The creditor must show that their claim is justified. If they succeed in doing so, the court sets the objection aside and the creditor can continue to enforce the debt.”

Court may decide to seize your assets. Photo: EKATERINA BOLOVTSOVA on Pexels

If this happens and you still don’t pay, “the debt enforcement office can order your assets and income to be seized to pay the creditor’s claims”.

In such a case, authorities will instruct your employer to transfer the portion of your future salary directly to the debt enforcement office. They can also seize valuables that you own so that they can be auctioned off.

Obviously, this is the absolute worst-case scenario that you want to avoid at all costs (pun intended).

Future problems

There are important reasons why you don’t want to have a debt attached to your name.

If you are a foreigner, a debt can prevent you from obtaining Swiss citizenship.

READ MORE: Citizenship: How personal debt could stop you from becoming Swiss 

And regardless of whether you are a foreign or Swiss national, a debt is a stain on your record, which will hinder you from renting an apartment, getting a credit card, mortgage or another kind of loan.

What if you can’t afford to pay your bills?

Get help before the matter gets to the debt collection proceedings. Cantons have services dealing with individuals in financial difficulties.
These are numbers to call in German speaking cantons and French ones.


If you can’t pay your bills, help is available. Photo:  Andrew Khoroshavin from Pixabay 

There is also help available if you have problems paying your mortgage:

What to do in Switzerland if you cannot pay your mortgage 

Or perhaps you just forget to pay your bills on time.

If you are absent-minded to that point, there are two things you can do:

Set up direct debits

You can arrange this automatic-payment system through your bank. Many people do this to pay recurring monthly or quarterly bills, such as telecom services, health insurance premiums, taxes, credit cards, and such.

These bills arrive directly to your bank, which will pay them on either the last day of the month or the first, depending on how you set it up.

Pre-pay

Once you receive your bill, you can immediately set up the payment to be made 30 days ahead.

This way, you won’t have to worry about it later — or get in trouble.
 

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