Sustainable Cities™

Zürich: Züri-Sack – popular rubbish sack policy

The Swiss city is pursuing a radical waste policy which has turned its citizens into environment-aware recyclers and revolutionised their consumption habits. What makes the 'Züri-Sack' project special is that it has successfully introduced a single type of waste sack with a duty payable by the originator of waste sent for incineration. The project now enjoys the backing of more than 97% of Zürich's inhabitants.

Affaldsposen Züri-Sack, der siden 1993 har været den eneste officielt godkendte affaldspose i Zürich. Copyright: ERZ Entsorgung + Recycling Zürich, Fotograf: Zeljko Gataric

During the period 1992-2005, Zürich succeeded in reducing waste production from 140,000 tonnes to 100,000 tonnes a year. This positive change is the result of a collaborative effort between local and regional lawmakers, NGOs and Zürich's waste disposal authority. The solution consisted of the 'Züri-Sack' and 'Zürich recycling' and an extensive information campaign designed to motivate consumers to commit themselves to sustainable waste disposal and start composting.

Zürich householders bring small amounts of recyclable material to the over 160 collection points for glass, metal and waste oil. Those who wish to dispose of larger items of waste, socalled bulky waste, can bring it to one of two recycling centers in the city area. Those who do not have a vehicle at their disposal can deposit their electrical devices and bulky waste at a tram stop once a month. The recycling project has also introduced composting in private gardens, local common areas and local authority owned installations. Zürich's most innovative initiative in this field, however, is its 'pay as you throw' duty on waste.
Zürich recycling. Photo: lejoe 17. marts 2009, Flickr Creative Commons

Penalties for waste-related offences can amount to as much as 250 Swiss francs, and many Zürich residents recognise that potential financial penalties are the greatest incentive to their support of the project rather than a sense of public spiritedness. As Eidenbenz, a resident of Zürich said in an interview with the New York Times: "Many of us, myself included, ended up getting fined. And that was highly educational - especially for stingy people like me."

An ordinary household in series today produces an average of only one filled Züri-Sack a week. A study of northern European cities carried out by an NGO the Association of Cities and Regions for Recycling (ACRR) shows that only a few small towns in Austria and Holland produce less rubbish per citizen. Zürich's good example has spread to the rest of Switzerland. Germany and Holland are also leaders in the waste disposal field, having introduced high-tech versions of 'pay as you produce'. In Dresden, microchips on dustcarts measure the volume of rubbish, which is then linked to charges imposed on households.

Zürich's radical waste collection policy has helped to revolutionise citizens' shopping habits. Everyone thinks twice before buying commodities that are too well packaged in cardboard, plastic or expanded polystyrene. Having to pay for the volume of waste you produce and being responsible for delivering packaging material to recycling stations makes people more aware of unnecessary packaging. Retailers such as e.g. IKEA now use much less packaging and offer customers the opportunity to unwrap their purchases and leave packaging behind. Customers are simply not interested in taking extra packaging home with them.

Japanese waste disposal

Japan is also a leader in waste disposal. The dearth of space in Japanese cities encourages greater efficiency and consideration for the environment as well as people. Japan has a long tradition of acting to the advantage of society even though this may be more difficult than the individual citizen.
Also read the case about Kawasaki's Eco Town strategy here

Last updated Tuesday, January 21, 2014