I like the trash collection system here in Basel:  You buy special blue garbage bags, each 35 liters in size (about 9 gallons), which is considerably smaller than an American "large kitchen trash bag."  They are, however, much tougher, and can be well-stuffed without ripping.  You pack your trash as efficiently as possible into as many bags as you need, and put them out in the street at the appropriate time for collection.

That's it.  The cost of trash collection is included in the cost of the bags, and thus you pay proportionately for the amount of trash you produce.  There is significant incentive to minimize your waste, yet the capacity to dispose of more is there if you need it.  Ideally, you would pay by weight rather than volume, but the system is so easy, it is a worthwhile compromise.  I think of a friend's complaint that she can't help feeling annoyed at seeing her neighbor's routine weekly pile of 10 or more large bags as she makes her own family's one-small-bag contribution to the landfill collection; she would welcome such a system in her town.  As would I.

Recycling is different here, too, though I haven't decided if it's better or worse.  Plastics and metals must be taken to a recycling station instead of being picked up at the curb as I'm accustomed to, but such stations are only an easy walk away.  Only one type of plastic is recycled ("PET," known in the U.S. as PETE or #1); our county recycles any type of plastic as long as it has a number code.  On the other hand, paper is picked up at the curb, and they recycle all sorts of paper, including office paper, which our county excludes.  Not worse, not better, just different—and not any more different than the variability from community to community in the U.S., as we discovered in moving among New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Florida.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, July 13, 2010 at 9:30 am | Edit
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Technically, we also recycle some polypropylene (PP, #5) with the milk bottle return system. And PET recycling is limited to drink bottles: for instance, they don't want the oil bottles in that collection.

I'm still curious as to how the different plastics are separated. Does some guy look for the number codes and toss them into separate bins? Presumably, RFID tags could simplify the sorting, but then there would have to be the additional step of removing the tags before recycling.

Posted by Stephan on Tuesday, July 13, 2010 at 3:41 pm

I keep meaning to look up the separation methods (though hoping you'll do it instead at some point)...

I have wondered about the oil bottles, and so don't always recycle those; I probably do sometimes, depending on the location of the recycle bin or some other such random rule like that.

I was surprised at the lack of recycling in Switerland - someone had mentioned how much further ahead they were than lots of people. #1 and #2 are recycled everywhere in the US I've looked. The three locations in CT do all numbered plastics. Our town only does 1 and 2.

I hadn't heard that paper was recyclable in Basel; Richard appeared to only do a bit of cardboard, and the family we stayed with didn't recycle it at all - though they did have a container for reuse.

If you are willing to bring it somewhere, you can probably recycle paper most places here? Cardboard is a bit harder - I only know of one cardboard recycle place, but it is fun to operate it (solar powered gigantic machinery is cool) so it is worth saving up a month or two of cardboard and bringing it there.

I do like the bag collection system, as we chose the 3 cans a week method since the choices were 1,3 or 5, and we sometimes have more than 1, and if you ever got behind, you would end up with garbage sitting around for a while I think. Although, they are pretty lax about "measuring" the garbage, so I suspect we could get away with a 1 can/week plan, but since it would only save a couple dollars a month (we pay $13/month for trash pickup if I remember correctly) it doesn't really seem worth it, and we are supporting the smaller family-run trash pickup company over the large, almost monopoly so I'm happy enough to give them a bit extra.

Posted by Jon Daley on Wednesday, July 21, 2010 at 1:17 pm

You win, Jon. I looked it up, at least a bit. Wikipedia has an article on plastic recycling and mentions several difficulties - but not how the plastics are separated, only that separation by hand is economical in India. Wisegeek doesn't add any information on separation, but also indicates its importance.

Posted by Stephan on Wednesday, July 21, 2010 at 3:53 pm

I've asked the city how they do it, and will pass on the results when I hear back.

Posted by SursumCorda on Wednesday, July 21, 2010 at 4:04 pm

It seems like office paper might be included in "supplements"? Or if not, what is the difference?

Posted by Jon Daley on Thursday, July 22, 2010 at 7:50 am

My abject apologies to Stephan for cutting off most of his comment. :( Too many times I've had that happen to me. It usually happens when I make a typo in the html, and I don't know any solution other than to save a copy of long comments so I can try again....

Posted by SursumCorda on Thursday, July 22, 2010 at 11:40 am

Thanks to searching for "office paper," which I was certain we were told they could not accept, I found that there is a drop-off point for office paper. I'm not sure what it means, since the date on the page is 2006, and they talk about taking magazines and catalogs, which are now accepted curbside. But it's worth looking into.

Posted by SursumCorda on Thursday, July 22, 2010 at 1:45 pm

I'll try to summarize:
- The Brits (WRAP) mention mechanical sorting with "manual polish"
- The German Wikipedia article mentions laser sorting systems
- Basel on its website says that the ecological benefit doesn't justify all the extra effort for collecting and sorting plastics
- If you have large EPS (Styrofoam) waste amounts, you can apply to recycle it in Basel
- Switzerland may get its good recycling reputation from its compliance: 81% for PET, 91% for aluminium cans, 80% for aluminium pet food containers, 60% for aluminium tubes (mayonnaise, mustard, etc.), 94.6% glass bottles and containers
- Correction: the milk bottles are #2, HDPE, not #5.

Posted by Stephan on Thursday, July 22, 2010 at 3:41 pm

That's an amazing compliance rate. Part of me suspects that the reason we "recycle" all types of plastic is to make it so easy people will be more likely to do it. I know that sometimes what is collected for recycling goes to the landfill (albeit a separate part) if the costs make it too high to recycle. They don't want to get people out of the habit. They can recover it when the market is better.

Posted by SursumCorda on Friday, July 23, 2010 at 12:02 am

Whoa, a solar powered recycler. And I thought the hand-cranked metal crusher here was cool.

Here is the list of what we can and can't recycle for curb pickup. Don't ask me why they claim not to take lids—I include those anyway if they have numbers on them, and they get taken.

Plastic bags and styrofoam containers we can recycle at the grocery store. Used motor oil is recycled (no charge) at the local auto parts store. Printer ink and toner cartridges go to the office supply stores. But we still don't have a place to recycle office paper. Fortunately the worms love shredded paper.

Posted by SursumCorda on Sunday, May 05, 2019 at 11:27 pm