Saturday, April 13, 2013


It is often said that recycling is a way of life in Switzerland.  This is misleading.  It is more accurate to say that the Swiss have taken the now universal (and truly, age-old) practice of re-processing waste into new material, and made it Swiss. How?

First and foremost, recycling has been systematized. Second, it has been made into work.
In many cities in the world, recycling is a fortnightly process of divine judgement, separating one’s spent goods into two different containers bound respectively for the eternal damnation of the landfill (or, more vividly, the anaerobic hellfire of the gasification plant), and, in the second pile, for the meritorious reward of a second life of renewed productivity via the recycling plant.  In short, you put your stuff into a bin and leave it on the curb every other Tuesday.  Not so in Switzerland.  

Here, the recyclable is distinguished from waste, but also further subdivided into a pantheon of characters with names, to paraphrase Barthes, like Teutonic gods: Dosen, Alu, Karton . . .

Glass is lugged up the street to the large central collection bins, as are tins.  Some plastics can be returned to bins in the supermarket, though even here, plastic soft drink bottles are sorted separately from plastic milk bottles.  Paper and cardboard have to be tied – only with the approved gauge of string – into symmetrical bundles, the dimensions of which are also centrally mandated.  These are then stacked into tidy piles and collected by municipal authorities, though not on the same days.  Other plastics are returned to local recycling depots with baffling hours. 

Is this a way of life?  And if so, what kind of life is it?

Someone call an anthropologist.

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