Looking down the Rhine River, Basel, Switzerland© Wikapedia
Responsibility for one’s consumption in Switzerland also extends to recycling. During my recent three-week holiday in Toronto over the Christmas holidays, I was re-introduced to the toss-and-forget style of recycling and waste disposal in North America. Although there were four different recycling boxes, conveniently color-coded, people do not consider what they put in them. The boxes merely give the illusion of being eco-friendly. The boxes do not make people responsible for how much they consume—once that empty plastic bottle hits the blue box, it is forgotten.
In Switzerland, on the other hand, one must walk to the local neighborhood recycling station, a group of four or five tent-sized bins camped on a street corner. Here one must sort the various colors of glass into specific bins. Tins and cans must be loaded in a feeder-box and then, my favorite part, I have to spin a strawberry-red ship wheel to crush the cans myself. Take that, tuna can.
Again, when I lug the two bags of recyclables, which I have been collecting on my balcony for a few weeks, down the road, I cannot help but notice how many plastic water bottles I have used, and question the logic of paying for water in a country that has clean, even pristine, water gushing from its taps. And as I drop glass bottles into the recycling bins, I also note that I need to cut down on my maple syrup consumption.
Plastics, though, do not go here. They must be brought back to depots either inside or outside a supermarket. And these areas often have a staff member hovering about. I always feel just a bit guilty when I recycle here, as the staff are watching and can see that I have brought too much, consumed too much.
More than anything, though, these excursions are hassles, another reason to make me look at what and how much I consume. Although training (and city by-laws) has made me a conscientious recycler, I still dread hauling my recyclables to the depot and, therefore, am constantly reminded of what I use. It is this lack of convenience that is needed in North American communities, for odious convenience has turned us into insatiable consumers, and the introduction of proscribed garbage bag use is one solution.
Thanks to Swiss sensibility, there is one area in my life where I am no longer a slave to persuasive and deceptive marketing. No longer do I stand in the grocery aisle, weary, staring at an infinite variety of tomato sauces. My most difficult decision is which size bag to buy.
CHRIS HAMBLEY is an English teacher and freelance writer who has taught in both Canada and Switzerland. He currently works at an international school in Basel, Switzerland, a city of about 200,000 people who all throw out their garbage using identical blue bags.