Garbage disposal and Recycling in Switzerland | A quick guide

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As you all might know, there’s ALWAYS a Swiss way to do things – and this is no different when it comes to disposing-off garbage 😉 If you’re new, the whole garbage disposal and recycling in Switzerland can come as quite a revelation to you.

Back in India, for the longest time we were dumping everything together in the can, just before we left I remember there was a movement in Bangalore (south of India) to separate the wet and dry waste and if I may say so, just like many other privileges a person would ring your bell and collect all the home waste and disposal was their problem. But it doesn’t work this way in Switzerland, obviously, and that this was another “learning moment” in my new found expat life.

Even though Switzerland is one of the countries with the highest per capita waste production in the world, it also has one of the highest recycling rates – thanks to the waste management policies adopted! Let’s have a look at how to dispose off garbage, “the Swiss way” in this article…

Garbage disposal and Recycling in Switzerland
Garbage disposal and Recycling in Switzerland | A quick guide | My Swiss Story

How do you dispose-off waste in Switzerland?

Like I said, garbage separation rules might seem strange and tedious to people who have never done it before and you might even prefer dumping everything in one can and calling it a day. However, in Switzerland this could be a serious offence. Everything here is strictly supervised by local authorities and they have the right to do random checks. Even the neighbours are very particular about disposing-off garbage the right way and wouldn’t hesitate showing their displeasure. 😉

I remember during the initial year we got fined for mixing up stuff in our garbage bag; I asked my neighbour… “how the hell did they know it was OUR mistake!” He told me that when they find discrepancies they actually go through your garbage and if you’ve disposed postage then it’s easy to retrieve contact details. *Sherlock vibes*

Here in Basel-Stadt, we dispose our regular household waste in a “Bebbi-Sagg” (rubbish bag). You can find the waste collection timetable for your neighbourhood in the zone map: search for zones. Of course, this one is Basel specific – the waste is often collected on the designated days in the morning by the garbage trucks from your main door. The apartment that we stay in has large bins where we dispose the bags at will – however this is not the case in all the apartment complexes. For the brief period that I stayed in Vevey, the bags had a different name but the procedure was quite similar.

Now, as far as the trash bags are concerned, these special trash bags can be bought in supermarkets or grocery and convenience stores (most commonly at COOP and MIGROS). The bags, depending on their size, cost upwards CHF 25). Usually, you have to ask for them at the cash register.

Swiss garbage disposal – What are the ways?

Over here, garbage needs to be segregated and disposed off at it’s designated spots and dates/times. You can find the Recycling-map to find collection spots near your postal code. Nonetheless, recycling is mandatory, and failure to do so can result in strict fines, which could go up to CHF 300.

Garbage disposal and Recycling in Switzerland
Garbage disposal and Recycling in Switzerland | A quick guide | My Swiss Story

Recycling on your OWN

If you wish to recycle via public facilities, it is often free of charge. You have to take out the trash to collection spots that are located throughout the city. These collection points house different compartments for each waste product. For example, paper, plastic, glass bottles, food, etc.

Some of these items can also be taken to specific pick-up services:

– Supermarkets: These typically accept plastic beverages, cleanser bottles, batteries, water filters and light bulbs. A few small shops collect beverage cartons as well.

– Railway Stations: If you’re looking to dispose-off paper, plastic PET bottles and drink cans, Railway stations are a good bet.

– Electronic resellers: Any electronics seller will take in e-waste for recycling.

– Charities: Charities collect old-but-serviceable clothing and shoes.

There are allotted days and time for when specific waste products can be collected, which is important not to miss out. These are different based on where you live. This info is published by municipalities online on their websites, where you can check for more details and are also received yearly via post.

Recycling via door-to-door services

Recently, certain services like Eco House Recycling have been introduced where residents can gather their recyclables in various bags and have them collected from their homes.

Recycling through the door-to-door collection is usually a paid thing and can be an option if you have no time at hand; but my take is that slowly but eventually you learn to live by the rules and it becomes a part of your home management system.

There are also private collection services which pick up and sort bags of mixed recycling [single stream] for a fee. Others focus strictly on plastic, accepting any kind of plastic with a recycling number, including those not typically accepted in Swiss shops or municipal facilities.

Now that we’ve had a look at the two ways of segregating and recycling the waste, let’s see how we actually go about it. I’ve broken down various symbols for recycling and also where you can find spots to dispose-off these items.

A quick run-down of the Recyclables in Switzerland

While Switzerland’s list of recyclables is pretty long and encourages prioritization and scheduling – it’s all worth it! Let’s have a quick look at a list of some important recyclable items.

Garbage disposal and Recycling in Switzerland

Compost/ organic substances

Organic waste such as fruit peels, vegetable peels, and other food scraps are recycled to make compost. This is then added to the soil used for gardens, and plants. Green waste is collected separately and is disposed-off in the special bins assigned for this. 



Glass, whether it’s broken or whole, is recycled according to its color; there are containers for different colours available – green, brown, and clear glasses. Blue, purple, and other colored glasses go together with the green ones. Please ensure to not throw mirrors and ceramics in the same container as regular glasses as the melting temperatures are not the same. DIfferent colours of glass have different symbols for recycling. 

Paper and cardboard

Paper and cardboard are recycled separately. It is required to separate paper from cardboard and put them in their allocated trash. Paper and cardboard waste can be either put in their respective containers or, can be taken back to stores that sell electronics or furniture.

Plastic material

Anything made from plastic, except PET bottles, falls into this category. Plastic bags, bottle caps, window frames, and all other plastic-made products should be kept separate from PET bottles.

Garbage disposal and Recycling in Switzerland
Garbage disposal and Recycling in Switzerland | A quick guide | My Swiss Story

PET bottles

Plastic bottles can be returned to local supermarkets such as Migros/Coop, which have a PET bottle disposal, or you can search for PET receptacles outside or near supermarkets. Just make sure that you crush and flatten the bottles to make them smaller before disposing. 


Soft drink and deodorant cans, food containers, coffee capsules, and foil are recycled separately from other metals. Please ensure to not mix with other metals due to the difference in melting points.

Garbage disposal and Recycling in Switzerland
Garbage disposal and Recycling in Switzerland | A quick guide | My Swiss Story

Batteries and E-Waste

Lithium-ion batteries are considered to have damaging effects on the environment and should not be thrown in regular containers as they need specialised channels to be recycled. You can return them to shops or to supermarkets with special containers for used batteries available.
E-waste is also full of hazardous material and must be taken back to stores that sell the same type of products. 

Clothes and shoes

Old clothes and shoes can be dropped into charity collection containers which are located at recycling centers. There are organizations such as TEXAID and REVANT which redistribute old clothes to people in need. Alternatively, you can also put textile waste into collection spots in your neighbourhood.

Tip: You can also give away your old clothes to C&A, ZARA and H&M (I’m sure there is a longer list of stores) and in return for each bag of clothes you are given a coupon or a discount voucher that can be used during your next purchase.

Expired Medicines

Can be returned to your nearest pharmacy and they take care of disposing all your expired syrubs and tablets. Do not mix cosmetics such as makeup, shampoo, lotions etc. when handing out the parcel to the pharmacies.

I hope this clears out all the things needed for you to get started with the garbage disposal process – the Swiss way! This can seem like a bit too much in the beginning, but I promised you that you will get used to it after some time. The feeling of doing something for the environment also pushes us to get our stuff recycled the right way! For more details, you can also visit your nearest city hall. 

To read posts from May, click here

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