four assorted-color trash bins beside gray wall

Should the United States Follow the Swiss Way in Dealing with Waste?

Although my time living in Switzerland was very brief, the experience and exposure to a new lifestyle was well worth the little time spent. I was particularly amazed at how clean Switzerland’s streets and public transportation hubs were in comparison to the United States. From the fresh air, to the odor-free subway stations, and trash free streets, Switzerland is a germaphobe’s dream country. On top of this, I was also amazed by the level of commitment and compliance of its citizens to protecting the environment. This has compelled me to elaborate on how the United States could benefit from implementing Switzerland’s waste management policies.

I was first introduced to Switzerland’s waste-management policies when my housing manager explained the system to me. I was then further indoctrinated when I received a pamphlet from the Swiss-European Mobility Programme, which detailed the importance of caring for the environment, which included a how-to on how individuals could do their part, which included recycling and only eating meat three times a week. I was quite intimidated at first by the expensive fines, but very cautious when I began adapting to the rules. The bins consisted of separating glass, aluminum, paper, and household waste. This was a significant difference from my handling of trash in the United States. Recycling bins are rarely available. With this being, more often than not, most waste ends up going unsorted in big black plastic bags.

After a few weeks of practicing mindfulness when it came to waste management, I inevitably became an environmentalist. Separating my trash became second nature, as I feared the possibility of heavy fines, which would decrease my budget for my planned excursions. I would scoff at other people when I would visit neighboring countries who consciously chose to pollute their surroundings without regard. When I arrived back in the US, it felt very weird to not consciously have to divide up my rubbish, but I have continued to do it anyway.

Currently in the United States, there are no formal incentives for recycling. Recycling is encouraged, but it is not always practiced accordingly. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, when people recycle this reduces the amount of waste sent to landfills, aid in the conservation of natural resources, and increase support in the American manufacturing sector. Switzerland’s percentage of recycling waste remains constant at a 50% yearly rate, which makes them an anomaly considering that other countries in Europe barely recycle 10% of their waste. Switzerland, ironically, is one of the top producers of waste materials. However, according to the EPA, the United States’ recycling rate is only 25%, which is problematic because high yielding nations tend to produce more waste (and ship it elsewhere, too!).

Taking all of these factors into consideration, I propose the United States adopt Switzerland’s supply-side waste management policy. The Swiss believe that those who produce shall be the ones to pay. This explains their trash bag policy, where the bigger the bags and frequency of use, constitutes a bigger cost to the waste producer. The revenue generated from the standardized waste bags and mandatory mandate for recycling would encourage a cleaner environment, increased meaningful land use, and create more jobs. There would be no need for cargo boats full of trash to shipped across the Pacific Ocean or for the world’s oceans to be polluted to the point where its inhabitants are safer in captivity.

Recycling has environmental and economic benefits. When people consciously decide to recycle, they are conserving depleting valuable resources, and creating a better environment for themselves and others. As a former unconscious polluter, I hope that the post-pandemic version of the United States becomes more like Switzerland, where the least healthy options for individuals and their communities are costlier through the pocket.

Guyesha Blackshear
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