Waste management system – the experience of Switzerland

    28 Sep 2021

    The waste management system in Switzerland works like a Swiss watch – smoothly and reliably. Citizens politely sort waste and hand it over for recycling, and what cannot be recycled goes to safe incineration. However, this was not always the case.

    According to the NGO Waste Management Center, back in the 80s of the 20th century. Switzerland had significant environmental problems. More than 3,000 tons of garbage bags were delivered to Zurich alone every day. In addition, the reservoirs were heavily contaminated with phosphates and nitrates, and the land with heavy metals.

    But now Switzerland is one of the cleanest countries in the world. How did its officials manage to achieve it? They:

    • adopted laws;
    • made abandonment of landfills and developed incinerators (only in the canton of Zurich there are five such plants);
    • adopted garbage tax and fines for unsorted waste;
    • established cooperation with business structures and introduction of a vast system of garbage utilization;
    • developed environmental consciousness among citizens.

    And although the amount of waste produced by the Swiss is quite high, as in most developed countries, today Switzerland is among the leaders in Europe in terms of separate collection and recycling. For example, 80% of construction waste (which is the largest fraction) goes to secondary use.

     The level of recycling is simply astounding:

    •       95% – glass;
    •       91% – aluminum packaging;
    •       84% – tin packaging;
    •       82% – paper and cardboard;
    •       81% – PET bottles;
    •       71% – batteries.

     Also, most of the household waste that cannot be recycled is incinerated. For example, the Hagenholz plant on the outskirts of Zurich burns up to 250,000 tons of waste annually. Energy from waste incineration is used to heat about 170,000 homes in the city.

    Dozens of tons of aluminum, steel, and even precious metals (like gold) are also obtained from the ash left after incineration. The ashes are transported to a special place near the city, where metals are obtained from it. This technology is unique to Switzerland.

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