Following the recycling rules

October 3, 2012, 7 Comments

Paper recycling in Switzerland is a serious business. You have to do it right or risk public castigation. Today is paper (& card) recycling day in my area of Bern, so I spent part of this morning putting our old paper into neat little parcels, all perfectly shaped and tied up with string. And cutting up the cardboard boxes so that each piece fitted into my tidy bundle. That’s what you have to do to get the stuff taken away.

Woe betide anyone who thinks they can simply leave their recycling on the doorstep in any other fashion. Putting it all into a large paper bag, flattening boxes but leaving them too big, not tying the parcels properly so that they fall apart when picked up. Any or all of the above will mean that not only is your recycling left uncollected but most likely it will be given a giant neon sticker saying that it’s unfit for human collection. And that means all your neighbours will know that you can’t play by the recycling rules. The sheer embarrassment!

Now I have heard rumours that in some parts of Switzerland you can get away with putting your paper and card into a paper carrier bag, the type you get from a supermarket. Such anarchy is not tolerated in Bern. Here the bin men love nothing better than plastering those yellow stickers on your badly bundled or inadequately packaged recycling. Name and shame, that’s their game, as this picture shows (not my recycling, I hasten to add).

Recycling the proper way is seen as a civic duty rather than a personal choice. And such pressure to conform means that you soon learn to follow the rules. The council sends each household an annual recycling collection calendar, and even sends a text reminder the night before collection day, so that you put it outside on the right day. We wouldn’t want those bundles, however perfectly shaped and tied they are, to be lying around for too long. That wouldn’t do at all.

Of course paper & card (which by the way doesn’t include washing powder boxes; they have to go in the normal rubbish) aren’t the only things that get recycled here. The Swiss are champions at recycling  across the board, whether it’s glass or metal or PET plastic. Or batteries, where they manage a rate of 71%, compared to only 3% in Britain. Or even graves.

So maybe having such strict rules isn’t such a bad thing. If it helps save the world, then I can live with that. And I have grown rather fond of my regular sessions with paper and string.



7 Comments on "Following the recycling rules"

  1. Teela Thursday October 11th, 2012 at 07:24 AM · Reply

    I really wish my university in Ticino would have posted the special recycling days calendar in my dorm. I missed the large trash day pickup by one day and had fiasco trying to get rid of stuff when I graduated and moved out. I

    am originally from the Seattle area where we don’t have to separate our recycling so the Swiss system always felt like a hassle. For the last few years here in Seattle, all recycling goes into one bin that gets picked up bi-weekly with regular garbage pick up. The recycling bin is also much larger than the garbage one. I love how easy it is to recycle here. And according to this article’s-recycling-rate-soars/ from July 2011 Seattle individual families recycle at a rate of 70.3% so on par with Switzerland. But then again I just can’t see the Swiss feeling comfortable throwing everything willy nilly into one big bin; too much mess and much too easy.

    • Diccon Bewes Thursday October 11th, 2012 at 08:33 AM · Reply

      My parents have that all-in-one bin system in England. It is much easier on the consumer! The advantage here (as far as I understand it) is that because we take back plastic bottles, batteries etc to the supermarkets, they are the ones who have to organise the collection and delivery to recycling centres. That means the cost of that doesn’t fall to the local council, ie the taxpayer. Given that the supermarkets are generally richer than the councils, I like that.

  2. Rigoberto Minardo Thursday January 24th, 2013 at 04:16 AM · Reply

    recycling is of course very necessary to keep the environment clean.,

  3. Stella Wednesday February 6th, 2013 at 11:26 PM · Reply

    Every year I miss the calender for my quarter. Here the paper is collected by the primary schools e.a. the volontury parents. School years start at september and so does the paper collection. We can put it in any form. Only containers are left. Sacks and even plastic sacks are ok.

    Last year started the plastic collection, in free plastic sacks. It is collected once a forthnight and may not the night before placed at the street, for being light to sweep around by winds and being attractive for cats. Don’t like this.

  4. geoch1 Saturday August 16th, 2014 at 09:49 PM · Reply


    I really appreciate your books and style.
    Being another foreigner in Switzerland like you, I just started a (very unprofessional!) blog about the real Swiss…
    My second post was also about one of the most incredible Swiss activity: paper recycling!

    I would be honored to hear your opinion about it.
    If you have time and feel like, you can check it out at:


    (Mr) Andrea

  5. Alex Saturday April 21st, 2018 at 07:34 PM · Reply

    Where can I buy this string, is it available at Coop?

    • Diccon Bewes Tuesday May 15th, 2018 at 11:33 AM · Reply

      Coop or Migros sell it in the household section

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