It’s rubbish in Switzerland!

May 3, 2012, 1 Comment

It’s not something you see often on Swiss streets: uncollected bin bags piled up on the pavements. A visitor to Bern this week might be forgiven for thinking that Switzerland’s renowned cleanliness and order was just a myth. Or maybe the land of no-strikes had finally succumbed to industrial unrest. Fear not, neither is true – it is not a summer of discontent but a special case, one that disrupted the normal order of things.

In most Swiss communities you have to pay for each bag of rubbish you put out. It’s controlled by making you buy special council bags, blue ones in the case of Bern, or rubbish tax stickers to put on normal bin bags. Woe betide anyone who puts out any old bag of rubbish; not only will it not be collected but you might well get neighbourly complaints and offical reprimands. Few places have wheelie bins for household rubbish, so each flat and house puts out its bags on the street ready for collection day – from 7pm the night before is the permissable norm.

Of course, this being Switzerland, not everywhere has the same system. In some communities, in Romandie for example, you pay by weight or a flat monthly fee, but they are slowly changing to the pay-as-you-throw system. It’s seen as fairer (the more rubbish you create, the more you pay) and encourages recycling (the more you recycle, the less rubbish you have to pay for). In Bern, for example,the official blue bags come in different sizes and are priced accordingly. Most people, including me, use the 35 litre bag (roughly the size of the average under-the-sink bin), which costs 1.70 francs a pop and can be bought in rolls of ten from the supermarket. In some tourist resorts, such as Grindelwald, the supermarkets even sell them singly so that visitors staying for a week in a chalet can still put out the rubbish!

So what happened this week? May Day, that’s what. It’s ironic on the Tag der Arbeit (as it’s known in German – literally the day of work) in many parts of Switzerland it’s a semi-official public holiday. For example, that means a day off or half-day off for council and city workers in Bern – so no rubbish collection. But as almost all offices and shops remained open, most people forgot that the council doesn’t work on the Tag der Arbeit and put out their rubbish on Tuesday morning as normal. And there it has remained ever since.

But disorder never lasts long in Switzerland. Normal service will be resumed tomorrow, Friday. It is bin day again, so all those smelly bags will be scooped up and carted off to the incinerator. And we can all sleep better in the knowledge that the streets are once again pristine.

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