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.
14 thoughts on “Garbage Disposal and Recycling in Basel”
Your findings about the garbage disposal proceedings in Basel gives me a jolly good time. Please go into details as to what will happen to anybody that puts a chair or other furniture on the street, hoping it will be collected by someone else. What do you mean with *you will be fined or worse…*?? What is worse?? This is really cute! You did not mention, that if you put the garbage too early, but faithfully have glued the stickers on it, you may discover that the sticker has been removed, which means *stolen* – and the people in charge of disposal will alert you with a red sticker and if you do not react, they try to figure out, whose garbage this has been. They open garbage bags and look for personal details! Ask the neighborhood, etc. It is not nice, but they do that and eventually you will get fined with for instance CHF 200! Of course it depends in what part of town you live. If it is one of the renowned parts where you live, you may not be affected, but otherwise, you should watch out.
I think you did a great job of going into the details yourself! The worst I’ve heard of is someone being brought to identify their own garbage before being fined, but I’m sure there are other stories out there! Better to do it right the first time…
Has anyone any idea what to do with non-PET plastic (say CD cases, containers etc)? I have a few full bags of it in the keller and I’m not sure whether putting them in the bebbi sagg or not. Thanks for answering!
Great question! You can call the hotline and ask. Basel Cleanliness Hotline (+41 061 385 15 15). If you do call the hotline can you let us know if it works, and if they speak English or German only?
Migros and Coop are starting to take back these things. Try it at the M-Parc. I bet they take it.
It cost me 2×2.30 CHF per week to have my dust bin collected each week. To me the CHF 2.30 per week for 35L bag a great deal less expensive.
If you have a local composting setup (“Quartierkompostanlage”)you can take your kitchen and balcony waste there. This can save you quite a lot on Bebbi bags, as you’ll find you’re only throwing away packaging, and not stuff that will rot and get smelly if not put out twice a week.
They don’t accept anything of animal origin or cooked, by the way, as this encourages rats.
I have a very different view of these garbage bags.
I’m originally from the Northwest part of the US where we have been recycling for many decades far before it was fashionable or the ‘green’ thing to do. Maybe I’m just terribly unlucky but for the exorbitant price of these trash bags, I’ve found them to be poor quality. I have had many rip and leak.
I do appreciate that recycling is expected here and perhaps the high price is a deterrent for some. However, I would imagine that people would recycle even more if it were made more convenient. Where I have lived and have also noticed while visiting in other countries, the recycling was curbside and picked up on a weekly basis. I have always recycled and always will but I find it a major annoyance and inconvenience to be carrying my recycling around like a hobo every week. And storing paper and cardboard in my basement for a month at a time is not my idea of fun either.
I love Switzerland but I think they have a long way to go in the recycling department. There’s a lot to be learned by how other countries make it work and encourage the populace to recycle.
*End rant* 🙂
You can also buy stickers for your ordinary garbage bags at the local kiosks if you prefer not to use the blue bags.
While I love the Swiss garbage system, and the pay per use blue bags, I would also love a ‘green-bag’ of similar price that would cover the pick up and sorting of the recyclables. If you really don’t like recycling, try paying your children, or neighbor’s children (after discussing with their parents) to pick up your recycling every week or two!
I’m not sure I agree with you about CH having to learn about recycling. More about convenience for people used to a different system. I’m sure you’ll figure something out!!
@Sue: Of course you are right, these garbage bags are of poor quality and generally are resented by all, however, it is the law of the town and canton respectively to use them. :-/
Garbage is being removed twice a week, and slowly but surely Basel makes steps forward! There is now the possibility to bring all kind of plastic stuff to the next Migros; which definitely gives room in the garbage bag. And of course glass is collected separately in the different stations that have been installed in every part of town.
Well – it is not a good idea to advise “that Switzerland has a long way to go re recycling”.
This sounds rude and is not helpful in the communication.
I don’t really have trouble with the blue bags.
Again, if you don’t want to use the bags, buy the stickers (sperrgut) and use your bag of choice.
I don’t think Sue was aiming to offend, merely expressing a different opinion…
@Ilka, I had written in a moment of frustration and I didn’t mean to be rude. However, I don’t think that acknowledging that each country has some room to learn from other countries is necessarily out of line. My country certainly has a lot to learn from Switzerland. No country is perfect, and there are many, many things that are done wonderfully and efficiently here. I recognize and appreciate these things. I just happened to have lived in other places that I found were more efficient (in my opinion as nearly everything is recycled) in regards to recycling and more convenient. I see many recyclable items thrown in the general trash. This would remove the need to hire as many workers to pull recyclables out of the general trash which is what I believe they do at the moment. If recycling were made more accessible and more convenient, I think more people would do it.
Thoughts from a recycling loving expat. 🙂
If you have a balcony or any outdoor space in the shade, you can call the city and have them deliver to you a composting bin, as well as all necessary materials, FOR FREE, to start making your own compost!
This cuts down on biological material you throw out dramatically. I put in there all kitchen scrap, raw or cooked, and even a little bit of animal products too, from time to time – never had a problem. THERE IS NO SMELL.
This is the most friendly way to the environment, better even than using the city composting collection bins (no sitting around and rotting/producing methane, no need for high temperature forced fermentation…).
Great tip! Do you have a link or a phone number where you can contact the city about this?