When I was young we washed out milk bottles, donated aluminum cans to charity appeals and enthusiastically returned fizzy pop bottles to shopkeepers, earning 5p-per-bottle deposits as a nifty way to top up our weekly pocket money allowances.
None of this was called ‘recycling’ at the time, of course; it simply made sense to re-use where possible and save money at the same time. Decades later recycling is all the vogue, but it’s not always made easy. A lot could be learned from Saanenland.
Pay per bag
Rubbish collection in the region happens by way of ‘tax bags’: battleship grey for the canton of Bern and buttercup yellow for Vaud. These bags have a rubbish collection tax levied on them which pays for their disposal. This makes them more expensive to buy than regular black bags, but if you want to throw away rubbish in the municipal containers, these are the only ones you can use.
We soon learned that family-sized cereal boxes, beer and wine bottles took up way too much space in the tax bags, however much we crunched them down. We were getting through roll after roll of yellow bags and it was starting to add up.
We were living in Rougemont at the time and always drove our rubbish to the municipal bins at the train station. It didn’t take long for us to notice all the other containers in the same location where we could throw away stuff for free, including glass, cardboard, paper, batteries, oil and PET bottles.
In a matter of weeks we were converts to this uncomplicated system and the financial rewards it offered. We became recycling wizards and were soon separating four loads of recycling for every yellow tax bag.
Sometimes, though, you have to get rid of large items that aren’t classified as household waste. For this we were advised to go to the AVAG recycling centre at Oey, on the outskirts of Saanen on the road to Rougemont. It’s open on Monday to Friday from 08:00 – 11:00 and 13:00 – 17:00 and from 13:00 – 15:00 on the first and third Saturdays of the month.
This has got to be the tidiest, most spick-and-span refuse centre I have ever visited. And the most organised. You stop on a weighbridge going into and coming out of the dump and what you pay is calculated according to weight.
Despite all these positives I avoid taking our youngest son there. He, like his father, is a bit of a magpie and can’t resist hunting through piles of interesting-looking junk in the hope of unearthing something salvageable. My husband once found an unopened bottle of 1950 Armagnac in a roadside skip, but my son is less discerning. Ski boots, old radios, power supplies, a fish tank: you name it, he finds it. We rarely leave with an empty car.
I should end with a brief word of caution on rubbish collection in Switzerland. As an expat you hear lots of stories about Swiss rules (don’t run water in an apartment after 22:00, don’t use a lawnmower on Sundays, don’t do this, don’t do that…). While the most outlandish tales are often little more than scaremongering, they can unhappily contain more than a grain of truth.
Not long after we moved to Switzerland I decided to throw away an envelope of unwanted marketing material into a rubbish bin on Gstaad Promenade. I thought no more about it until I received a CHF 80 fine through the post a few days later, together with a photocopy of the envelope I had thrown away, my name and address circled.
I no longer recall what transgression I had committed, but a quick conversation with the ladies in Saanen got the situation sorted and the fine overturned. But it was an Orwellian reminder that recycling and rubbish collection around here is serious business.