Swiss ingenuity: green initiatives grow faster abroad

The Swiss have one of the best environmental records in the world and show great concern for the environment. Switzerland was one of the first countries to sign the Kyoto Protocol in 1998 and is one of the top recyclers in the world, with 66 percent to 96 percent of recyclable materials being recycled, depending on the region. Several years of living in Switzerland have taught me a lot about how to live green.

Line drying is the norm and a dryer is very unusual to find. Most people live in apartment buildings, each having one or more common-use drying rooms outfitted with clotheslines, and often a fan or dehumidifier. Most laundry loads dry in a few hours. Although they could easily afford dryers, any Swiss will tell you that they cannot imagine wasting electricity by using one when their way works just as well.

Waste disposal is very organized and compliance is accomplished through a combination of genuine caring and financial incentives. Garbage disposal works on a pay-as-you-go system, costing between $1.50 to $4.00 for an “official” garbage bag, which ranges in size from 17–100 L. (If you cheat and don’t use an official, taxed garbage bag, garbage police will search the offending bag for evidence which connects the bag to the originating household. Hey, the system works!) But, recycling is free and this serves as a powerful incentive to very quickly learn how to reduce, reuse, and recycle.

Reducing what you take home from the stores starts with bringing your own shopping bags, saving the 20 cents it costs to buy a bag at the checkout. Pressure on manufacturers has forced them to produce items with minimal packaging. After paying at the checkout it is common to see customers unpacking their purchases at a designated table and leaving the unneeded packaging in the store’s recycling bin.

Each year, homes receive a long list of the many ways to dispose of waste. To further reduce the volume of your home garbage, there are recycling bins for glass, PET plastic, aluminum, batteries, reusable shoes, and clothing. Free monthly paper recycling collection includes everything made of paper and cardboard. There is yard waste pickup for garden trimmings. There are various collection points for electronics, used oil, light bulbs, and tires. If you follow all these rules, you really don’t end up with much to put in your expensive garbage bags! Gasoline is taxed and costs about $8 per gallon. This encourages you to use the very safe, comprehensive, and efficient public transportation as often as possible. In general, people prefer smaller, fuel efficient cars. Motorists often turn off their motors at very long traffic lights.

Living in such a picturesque country, it is easy to see the environment you are protecting. The habits I learned there have stayed with me. I religiously bring reusable shopping bags with me to stores. I turn the water off while I am brushing my teeth. And just a week ago, I got caught between two firetrucks that stopped to respond to a call. After a few minutes, realizing I’d be there for a while, I instinctively turned off my motor.