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It’s time to talk trash. I’m talking real trash. It’s an odd topic, I know, but I’m often asked where, what and how one should dispose of this or that in Geneva. Some people are concerned if they are doing the right thing while others are frustrated and angry that the recycling bins are so limited.

Recycling and garbage disposal is not as clear cut as many cities and governments want their citizens to believe. A dirty napkin or greasy pizza box thrown into the paper bin can ruin an entire batch of recyclable paper products. PET milk and vinegar bottles cannot be cut up and recycled with the clear PET drinking bottles. Our actions have consequences.

The first thing you need to know is Geneva’s garbage is incinerated to produce energy. In order to avoid poisons being released into our air, a certain temperature must be maintained and toxic products removed. Furthermore, metals thrown into the incinerator make a molten mess. Another huge factor to efficient incineration is water. All that food we throw away (banana and orange peels, pasta, cheese rind, soup, bones and shells contain about 70% water which lowers the temperature of the incinerator.

Geneva has come up with a fantastic solution: the P’tite Poubelle Verte (the little green bin).

Geneva’s Little Green Bin was introduced as early as 2015 in some areas of Geneva and can still be picked up for free at most town halls and municipal police, along with the needed de-composable bags. You throw ALL your food and bones in. Then, every four days or so, dump your bag in any of the brown Déchets de Cuisine bins which can be found at most local recycling centers, as well as in the basements of many apartment buildings. Unlike garden waste, kitchen waste is processed at a plant that captures and sells bio-gas produced from the bacterial breakdown of food and spits out compost which Genevan residents can pick up for free.

Next on the list to avoid putting in your trash bin are toxins and metals.

  1. Batteries, which contain horrible poisons, and aluminum (including non-toxic aerosols) can be disposed at your neighborhood recuperation site.
  2. Paints, pesticides, fertilizers, oils and solvents need to be taken to ESREC -a depot near the MParc at la Praille- or at a nearby location specified by your commune.
  3. ESREC also takes all metals, broken furniture, tires, usable and unusable electronics as well as construction material.
  4. Unused medications, light bulbs and broken electronics/appliances can be returned to the stores that sell them.

While not ideal, plastics can be incinerated which is probably why Switzerland focuses on quality recycling.

  1. Clear PET drinking bottles are easily recycled and are the only plastic collected at the public recycling bins.
  2. PET bottles containing milk, detergent and oil, on the other hand, have chemical and oily contaminates that make recycling difficult so they must be returned to the grocery store for special treatment.
  3. All other plastics, including Tetra Paks, must be thrown away.

I hear a lot of people complain that the Swiss don’t recycle enough types of plastics. However, I would urge you to research what really happens to the plastic waste collected over the border. Two references I recommend are Planet Money’s investigative podcast called Waste Land, which details the history of why recycling plastics makes no economical sense and how most of it ends up in landfills. And ScienceDirect’s compilation of studies called Recycling of European plastic is a pathway for plastic debris in the ocean.  

If you’ve managed to read the entirety of this article, I thank you. Change begins at home and your habits matter. Let’s keep working toward a world that future generations can enjoy as much we do.

Ready to make changes in your consumption here is a link to 6 Easy Ways to Reduce your Plastic Use.

We are a group of international women living in Geneva, Switzerland.  If you would like to join the AIWC, please visit our website at  http://www.aiwcgeneva.org/