Tuesday, February 9, 2016

What Living in Switzerland has Taught me about Waste

You buy a can of soup, you get a plastic bag to take it home, the receipt dangles inside.  Once you get home you take the lid off and throw away the label.  After you are finished cooking the soup you either recycle the can or toss it out all together.  What if I told you that this everyday process is the key to sustainability?  Switzerland has mastered it so far - can we?

Montreux, Switzerland in the Fog
I have been living in Switzerland for the past few years for university - and it has completely changed my ideas of what being sustainable means.  I used to think sustainability was all about recycling and repurposing old materials.  However, here in Switzerland, I realized that the key to sustainability isn't how to reuse products; but instead,  how to reduce the amount of things we consume.  The key method Switzerland uses to impose this restriction is through their trash collection system, and the laws governing it.

Depending on which canton you live in there are many different regulations on trash that you create.  I live in one of the more relaxed cantons, Valais, however certain cantons like Zurich have such high taxes on trash that people actively try to reduce waste before it even comes into their homes.  There have been stories of people unpacking products in stores so that they don't have to pay for the waste that the packaging creates.  This in turn influences the stores to sell products with less packaging which goes back to suppliers who also reconsider the amount of packaging they use for all of their products - and the cycle continues.

Dragon recycling bin in Montreux, Switzerland
Honestly, after seeing how much a trash bag costs in Nyon, Switzerland - I ONLY want to recycle and find a way to make each and every piece of trash fit those standards just so I'm not breaking my bank.  This seems slightly harsh by mandating it by law - but it is effective.  If people weren't motivating themselves, this is the one of the best ways to wake people up to the realities of how much we waste on a daily basis.  The great thing is that they aren't imposing limits on the trash - they are just making waste a financial burden.  Which, in my opinion it rightly should be a financial burden because what are we doing when we throw stuff into landfills?  We are damaging the environment... so wouldn't it be nice if this extra money to pay for trash bags went to clean up the mess we made? It only seems fair.

Trash isn't the only way that Switzerland has made an impact on sustainability practices, but this is one of the most well regulated systems I've seen so far.  I hope to see it expand so that more people are reducing not just recycling.  If you would like to read more in detail about this trash system or what we in Switzerland call the trash police this is a very good article detailing the system - in a very satirical way: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2014-06-04/swiss-garbage-police-irk-foreigners-reeling-after-vote

Don't forget, it's - Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.  There is a reason reduce comes first!  Lets use Switzerland as an example and see how much we really waste this month.  What do you think about the laws? Would the amount you waste per month break your bank?

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