Magazine article E Magazine

Few Holes in Switzerland's Recycling Program

Magazine article E Magazine

Few Holes in Switzerland's Recycling Program

Article excerpt

By some measures, Switzerland is the greenest nation in the industrialized world. Not only does it boast one of the densest rail systems, it also leads Europe by recycling 50 percent of all household waste. Annual garbage production is just 880 pounds per person--half the U.S. figure.

"We do it in a very pragmatic way," says Hans-Peter Fahrini, chief of waste management for Switzerland's Agency for the Environment, Forests and Landscape. "We're a small country of seven million with few of our own natural resources, so it's part of our national character to be good recyclers."

The pragmatic Swiss target only highly recyclable PET plastic, and it is separated at the source. "That allows us to produce a quality product that can be competitively marketed and reused," says Fahrini. Aided by more than 40,000 collection points, the approach means that, in 2000, Switzerland recycled 82 percent of all PET sold.

Key to Switzerland's success is the linking of waste management goals to other benefits. For instance:

* To keep trash out of landfills, financial incentives were created in the early 1990s. People can now buy special 7.7-gallon bags for household waste. The proceeds of this "bag tax" fund local waste disposal services. Users can save money by disposing of recyclable materials separately.

* To reduce reliance on foreign energy, municipal incinerators are tapped to produce electricity and cheap steam heat that fuel plant operations and heat public buildings. …

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