One of the first things I noticed when moving to Switzerland, was that garbage and recycling were on a whole new level of complexity compared to what I was used to in Canada! Hopefully, this post will be able to answer some of your questions on the topic. I’m not an expert in this area, I’m just passing on what I’ve learned over the years, so if you have additional questions, you can call the Basel Cleanliness Hotline (+41 061 385 15 15), or look on the city website (this is currently only in German, but it translates well in Google Chrome). Feel free to make comments with any additional information at the bottom of this article; I’m sure future readers will appreciate it!
When I first came to Switzerland in 1998, I tried to put out my garbage in a standard black garbage bag. On garbage pick-up day (which generally occurs twice a week), my garbage was left on the curb, with a sticker on it, explaining that it needed to be in a special blue garbage bag called a ‘Bebbi Sagg’. I asked one of my neighbors and they told me that I could pick these up at my local grocery stores (Migros or Coop), at the cigarette and alcohol counter. What my neighbor didn’t tell me, is that the cost of these bags incorporates the taxes for garbage pick-up, and they cost an insane amount of money (10 x 17 Liter bags for CHF 12.00, 10 x 35 Liter bags for CHF 23.00, 10 x 60 Liter bags for CHF 33.00).
After getting over the initial heart-attack of paying for them, I realized the idea was brilliant! This high cost acts as a deterrent to creating waste, and proportionally taxes those that produce more garbage. As the money for the garbage bags is so high, you generally try to minimize waste production and recycle materials where possible, instead of throwing them in the trash.
Your official blue Bebbi Saggs should be put out the night before garbage pick-up, after dark. If you put your garbage out too early (or in the wrong bag) you might be fined. These fines run into the hundreds of Swiss Francs range, which explains why Switzerland is so clean! The pick-up days are defined by which zone of the city you live in. You can accurately find your zone by inputting your address into the zone calculator.
Recycling Cardboard and Paper
It doesn’t cost anything to recycle paper and cardboard, but this must be done in a very specific way. It needs to be tied up with twine, in strings packages that have a maximum volume of about 0.5 m3. I’ve tried taping the paper and cardboard with packing tape, or putting it all into a paper bag to have it collected, but have had this rejected. The string is the only way to go here, or your recycling will be left on the street with a sticker letting you know how to do it right! Paper/cardboard pickup day comes every 5 or 6 weeks. You can find the schedule of waste removal on the city website.
Glass Bottle and Aluminum Recycling
The system for recycling bottles and cans is much less convenient than the garbage pick-up! Basically, you have to take your bottles and cans to a local recycling area (there will probably be one within a 10 minute walk of your flat), sort it yourself into aluminum and by different types of colored glass (clear, brown and green). You can also dispose of old alkaline batteries for recycling in the small yellow boxes.
The real challenge is that this can only be done at specific times, from Monday to Saturday from 7am -7pm, and definitely not on Sundays! If you recycle outside of these times, you are very likely to have someone on the streets shouting at you, and if there are police nearby, there will definitely be a fine!
PET Plastic Recycling and White Plastic Milk Bottles
PET plastic bottles do not have a deposit in Switzerland. These are not to be thrown out in the blue bags, nor can they be recycled at the standard recycling stations (I don’t know why not!). PET plastic must be taken to the local grocery stores to be disposed of there. Plastic bottles should be crushed, to squeeze the air out of them, with their caps on top to keep them from expanding again. Usually you’ll see a box to put the bottles in, or some sort of a machine to take the bottles. The same holds true for white plastic milk bottles.
Your old TVs, VCRs and any other electronics you want to throw out can’t be disposed of by standard methods, but can be taken to any electronics shop, like Interdiscount or MediaMarkt for disposal. Just ask the staff in these stores, and they will tell you where you can put your old electronics.
Metal, Ceramics, Organic matter, Large and Small Miscellaneous Items
All of these have pickup dates that are defined by the city, depending on which zone you live in (check the zone calculator here). For large or small miscellaneous items, (ie a chair or a sofa), you need to go to a kiosk and buy a stickers that you can glue on the materials. Some people will put out articles that need to be disposed of outside, without stickers, some days before the pickup, in hopes the articles will be picked up off the street. If you are caught doing this, you’ll be fined or worse! The details for how to get rid of these materials can be found on the city website. If you have materials in these categories to be picked up you need to sign up online so that the city knows they are there.
I hope this helps to answer your questions regarding the complexities of getting rid of your trash in Basel! If you have further questions, be sure to call the Basel Cleanliness Hotline (+41 61 385 15 15) for clarification.