Wednesday, 1 June 2011

The Grass is Greener

I remember watching a magazine piece on the television when still in my formative years. I think it was in an episode of Blue Peter or Tomorrow's World. Although it may have been another programme altogether. The piece followed a man on a bicycle trailing a white balloon to collect air for pollution testing. This is my first memory of being conscious of what Switzerland might be like. Clean.

And, by comparison, it is.

Zürich is a large city. It is not spotlessly clean. But it is a lot cleaner than most, if not all, other cities I've visited.

Certainly, the swirling cyclones of litter on London's South Bank or the overflowing bins in Leeds city centre on Sunday afternoons (not emptied since before Saturday's shopping hours) are not to be found.

The bins of a park in Zürich will be overflowing after lunchtime on a hot work day. But by evening they will have been emptied. The streets after a parade or festival event will be covered in litter. But before morning it will have disappeared.

It's not that the Swiss are more clean. Just that there is a lot more clearing up after them that goes on. Street sweepers patrol the streets two or three times a week. And that is despite the low taxes for public services and an outsourcing contract covering most (if not all) elements of public cleaning and waste disposal!

There are two exceptions though: cigarette butts and chewing gum. And both are the result of very popular activities in Switzerland.

As well as the cleanliness, the Swiss are renowned for their recycling prowess, often quoted as the world's leading recyclers.

But is this behaviour a result of interest in the longevity of the planet or a distaste for mass consumption? Perhaps it is. But mostly it is because recycling is free and throwing away rubbish is expensive.

Here is where some policy makers elsewhere should take note. Especially those who want to try and weigh everyone's waste at the point of collection.

Take note of the Swiss approach: charge by volume. Here the rubbish sacks are taxed. By the local council. And you can only dispose of rubbish using one. So there are no anti-social neighbours dumping their rubbish in someone else's wheelie bin.

And the bags are heavily levied as well. A 35-litre Zürisacke costs CHF2.20 (if bought in a pack of ten). That's very nearly £1.60 today (probably about £1.70 tomorrow!). And you can put anything you like in them. There's no snooping into people's bins to check whether they are throwing the right things away. If you are stupid enough to pay to throw something away that you could dispose of for free then it's your own problem.

It's not all sweetness and light however. Whilst it may be free to recycle a range of materials, there is, of course, a system. And not an entirely straight forward one.

Let's start with the easy stuff. Street collections.

Every fortnight, on Tuesday morning, bundled paper is collected. And bundled means neatly bundled. Not higgledy-piggledy.
Garden waste is collected once per week during the Spring, Summer and Autumn if you have bought a permit. Less frequently in the Winter.

Cardboard is picked up on Wednesdays, once every four to five weeks, again, neatly bundled. And textiles once in June and once in November.

If you want to get rid of dangerous materials (such as chemicals, paints, etc.,) then you can take them to a collection point on a given day in October. Free up to 20kg of waste.

Next there's the drop-off points. That covers glass and small metal (tins and cans). Sometimes used cooking oil. These are located on the street at regular intervals throughout the city. But you can only use them between the hours of 7am and 7pm Monday to Saturday. Never on a Sunday and certainly not on a Public Holiday. After all, who would want their Freizeit to be spoilt by the sound of smashing glass?

So, what's left? Plastics? Batteries? Electronics?

Well, supermarkets are responsible for providing free facilities to recycle PET, plastic milk cartons and batteries. And light bulbs, small compressed air canisters and water filter cartridges.
They also tend to have bins and recycling points behind the tills so that you can throw away unwanted packaging at their expense.

As for electronics, as elsewhere, these should be returned to an electronics store for safe and suitable disposal.

And that covers most of it. Except for innovative second-hand sales.
And bicycles!
Although at least the water is clean enough to be able to see them!

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