The Minefield of Swiss Recycling

Updated: Jan 9, 2020

One of my first weeks living in Switzerland, I was emailing with a potential language teacher about signing up for lessons. In the language teacher’s email, she asked that I come to her apartment next Thursday. I wrote the appointment down in my calendar for the following Thursday and didn’t think anything of it. Two days later, I received a frantic phone call asking if I was OK, and if I was still planning to come to the German session. What? I thought it was NEXT Thursday.

Once a month in our village, large signs are posted to inform us of the impending newspaper recycling. The sign states that newspapers will be picked up next Saturday. Thanks to my German tutor experience, I learned that when they say next Saturday, they mean the very next Saturday that shows up on the calendar.

Photo by Gary Chan on Unsplash

When I see this sign I know it’s time to get home and try to meticulously truss our newspapers so they don’t stick out like a sore thumb next to the Swiss bundles. Only paper and newspaper may be bundled together in the flawless cube. If something other than the prescribed materials is included in a parcel, it will be slapped with, what my husband calls, the fluorescent orange sticker of shame. Everyone in the neighborhood will see that your papers weren’t picked up! The horror!

The Swiss have a metal contraption that holds the discarded papers until they are ready to be wound in twine on the prescribed Saturday. It wasn’t until I threw something in the myriad of recycling contraptions at a friends house did I see the metal paper holder thingy. It was a revelation! Trying to fit in with the picture of Swiss efficiency, I purchased the paper collection apparatus immediately.

When the aforementioned Paper-Pickup-Saturday arrived, I was excited to wrap my papers in a beautiful stack. I was under the impression that the paper holder gizmo was what kept the papers so neat. Nope, that is strictly the skill of the Swiss paper handlers themselves. The multicolored twine that is sold in every store is supposed to expertly wrap the newspapers to perfection. It looks simple enough: papers, twine, wrap, all good. I’m not sure if newspaper wrapping is an art form taught in the Swiss schools, but it is clearly something I was not privy to growing up in the US.

Laying out the dappled string in an X on the floor, I was ready to start my stacking. It was absolutely beyond me how one was able to get every corner lined up when the papers were technically not the same size! I tried grabbing half the stack at once and placing it on the twine. An ugly mess. Then I tried taking a couple dozen papers and tapping them on the floor like a deck of cards to straighten them out. This was going to take forever!

After wrangling with the papers for an inordinate amount of time, I started to tie the string. Placing my knee on the stack to compress the papers and pull the string tight, I could feel my heart start to pick up speed. Pulling the string as tightly as possible and expertly placing my knee in the middle of the twine while I made the knot made my hands feel like they were going to bleed! With sweat dripping off my nose, I finally finished the knots and was ready to walk my masterpiece to the sidewalk.

Large stacks of newspapers teetered next to the sidewalk awaiting the volunteer group that was going to pick them up later in the day. I looked up and down the sidewalk to see if anyone would know which stack of chaotically wrapped newspapers were mine. The coast was clear so I laid my papers on top of the rest. I turned to head back into our apartment when I heard a horrible crash. My precariously placed stack of newspapers had caused the whole mound of newspapers to tumble. So not only did my wrapping job look the worst, now I was the reason all the newspapers were on the ground!

The logistics around recycling in Switzerland are complicated. Complicated to the point that there are chapters in books written on how to recycle in this country. Because of the small nature of Switzerland and the natural borders created by mountains, large landfills are simply not an option. Therefore, recycling takes on great importance.

Children are taught about recycling from a very young age. School groups are ushered through local recycling facilities that take in enormous amounts of trash and turn them into next to nothing and power entire cities. The recycling technology in Switzerland is a marvel.

We do all we can here in the Remfrey household to recycle and are always looking for new tricks to make it more efficient. But, I’ll have you know that I have yet to topple another stack of newspapers, but if I do, I’ll be just as quick to run away as I was before!

April Remfrey is an American special needs consultant living and loving life in Switzerland. April helps globally mobile families as they search for the best school for their child with special needs. Please feel free to share this blog post by giving credit to the author and the website link:

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