The Swiss Approach to Household Waste Management: An Example of Cohesion in Environmental Policy

 By Kwok Lai Kuen (Hazel)

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2.  An Integrated Legislative, Educational, and Financial Approach

3. Going the Extra Mile – Purchase Behavioural Changes 

4. Conclusion

5. References

6. About the Author

1. Introduction

Out of various environmental issues, household waste management provides the greatest opportunity to change individual behavior in favor of the environment: repetition is key in affecting behavior, and individuals generate waste on multiple occasions throughout their day. While the definition of household waste varies by country, it is the main subset of municipal waste, for which there is a globally accepted statistical reference. In 2015, Switzerland was second in the world in terms of economic wealth and consumption power as indicated by its GDP/capita of USD 80,990 (The World Bank, 2016), and it was the second highest municipal waste producer (725kg/capita) in the EU/EFTA (Statistics Explained, 2017) (see figure 1). Despite this alarming waste production, the Swiss waste recovery rate stands at 53%, ranked fifth worldwide, besting the European average of 25% and other well-developed non-EU areas with comparable wealth, including the U.S., Japan, and Australia (OECD, 2015; Skjellaug, 2016).


This entry will focus on Swiss household waste management as a lever for raising personal awareness of how one’s own behavior makes a tangible difference, enhances one’s sensitivity to the environment, and provides a vector for individual compliance with regulations. As this entry shows the Swiss approach to the environment and ecology is comprehensive and strongly supported by regulation and law. More importantly, the Swiss integrate education and financial incentives under environmental policy in order to be more effective. The aim is to make people sensitive to their ability to impact the environment, change behavior, and ultimately enhance individual compliance in doing their parts.

2. An Integrated Legislative, Educational, and Financial Approach 

Environmental regulation in Switzerland consists of 6 federal acts in addition to its Constitution wherein article 74 states: ‘the Confederation shall legislate on the protection of the population and its natural environment against damage or nuisance’ (Wehrenberg, Reich, and Rich, 2016). Specifically, for waste management, the 1995 Environmental Protection Act (EPA) stated a clear priority in waste management: ‘first, waste must be prevented; then wherever possible, it must be recycled and finally, disposal must be ecologically efficient and, whenever possible and appropriate, performed on the national territory’ (Petitpierre, 1999, p. 86).

For decades, the United Nations has stressed that informal and formal education are critical for sustainable development and must be integrated in all disciplines (UN, 1993). The 2012 Swiss Education Report showed that schools are the principal source of information on the environment (Wolter et al., 2014). Zeyer and Roth (2009) stated that for Switzerland, environmental protection is  a common topic of public discourse. This topic gains even more attention in education, where ‘resonances are found not only in the current curricular, but also in teachers’ engagement and in school culture and school infrastructure, where an environmental commitment plays an important role’ (Zeyer and Roth, 2009, p. 980). 

Switzerland puts environmental education in its formal curriculum by integrating Science, Technology, Society and Environment Education in the lower secondary level. Students learn the ways in which science has degraded the environment and how science contributes to preserving it. ‘Acting responsibly in the environment and society’ (Zeyer and Elin, 2013, p.208) is one of the 4 teaching goals of science education. Intensive and comprehensive coverage is identified in 6 aspects (Zeyer and Roth, 2009, p. 965) :

a)     acquire insights into environmental issues;

b)    form personal positions on environmental topics;

c)     become involved in local, national and global environmental problems;

d)    be ready to conserve the natural environment;

e)     consume and live in an environmentally friendly manner;

f)     respect the environment during leisure and sports time. 

Jackson (2016, p. 59) stressed the importance of cultivating teacher awareness of a school’s own ‘hidden curriculum’/active role in ESD (e.g., recycling campaigns), emphasizing how including this component in training promotes buy-in is ‘seen as critical to successful integration,’ and noting that ‘ESD may be less effective’ otherwise. In 2013, a national competence centre was set up to provide support for schools and universities in Teacher Education for ESD (Wolter et al., 2014). Zeyer and Roth (2009, p. 966) reported that beyond curriculum design, authorities also tailor-made science teacher programs for Science, Technology, Society and Environment Education, helping teachers deliver topics of environmental protection to students.

Finally, ‘a majority of experts ascertain that financial incentives do effectively alter environmentally relevant consumer and producer behaviour’ (Joos et al., 1999, p. 422). In Switzerland, household waste management is based on the polluter-pays principle (Skjellaug, 2016). Tax on waste is always an efficient means to arouse attention. Taxpayers realize that the amount of cost represents the elimination of waste, and will change their behaviour. The expected outcome is a reduction in waste production, increased recycling rates and less incineration (Genoud, 2016).

As household trash is unavoidable and the necessary unwanted daily by-product of every household, taxed trash bags are a major financial initiative in household waste management, with widespread and immediate impact on the public. Taxed bags pro-actively encourage every individual to engage in the problem of waste, putting effort in reducing waste at home, in addition to sorting trash before disposal. While the Swiss have made a habit of sorting regular trash like paper, glass, PET bottles, aluminium cans and food waste, introducing taxed trash bags further refined both waste production and waste sorting, given the financial benefits of using fewer bags (Genoud, 2016). 

Since taxed bags were first introduced in Switzerland in 1975, the recycling rate has increased more than three-fold from 16% to 53% in 2015 (Mombelli, 2017; "Le Valais,” 2017).  Enforcement is not easy, however. According to Le Régional, at launch stage in the Vaud Canton in 2013, household waste was inappropriately or illegally disposed of, and offenders were hard to identify (Hess, 2013). Yet officials were determined to enforce policy. Swiss health officials and police would open up non-taxed i.e. illegal bags, looking for utility bills as evidence to connect these bags to individuals (Hess, 2013). The fine for using non-taxed bags is up to CHF 10000 in some districts (Genoud, 2016), a substantial deterrent to non-compliance. This financial initiative together with the protocol of implementation and strict penalty system combine to drive behavioural change in an effective manner.

Figure 2.  Taxed Trash Pack in Switzerland: CHF1.95/piece (Source of picture: the author (2017).

Figure 2. Taxed Trash Pack in Switzerland: CHF1.95/piece (Source of picture: the author (2017).

For most non-daily household waste, disposal is free of charge. Coupled with the taxed bag and awareness of environmental protection, the Swiss are more motivated to further refine sorting of these household wastes. For example, for high-value items like electrical and electronic equipment, the disposal and recycling cost is built in to the selling price at the point of purchase. As such, these items may be disposed of at any retailer;‘problematic’ household waste like unused / expired drugs can be given to pharmacies; used batteries to stores selling batteries, while bulky household waste like furniture is disposed of at designated collection points.

3. Going the Extra Mile – Purchase Behavioural Changes 

Sorting and disposing trash is not the endgame of waste management.  A more proactive and substantial contribution to ecology is to avoid producing trash. Green consumers engage in addressing ecological damage through everyday activities such as consumption (Connolly and Prothero, 2008). A recent study showed that 84% of Swiss minimize waste when buying a product, and there is certainly a link between each purchase decision and one’s awareness of how that purchase impacts the environment (Hainard, Cecchini, and Jacot, 2012). The pulling force created by this eco-sensitive action at the customer level drives retailers and manufacturers to act accordingly. One of biggest supermarket chains in Switzerland, Coop, announced its first environmental initiative in 2001, and in 2015, a sustainability campaign called actions-not-words committed the company and its brands to sustainability, encompassing external as well as internal aspects, involving employees and corporate philosophy (Coop, 2015). An example is the promotion of the Oecoplanbrand, a range of products made from recycled materials, e.g. recycled paper and cleaning products with recycled bottles. Suppliers who demonstrate environmentally production methods will be given priority to carry their products in the shop (Coop, 2015). This accelerated individualization of responsibility encourages the purchase of a vast array of green or eco-friendly products in the belief that such behaviour leads to a healthier planet. A survey revealed that more than 70% of Swiss will pay more for environmentally-friendly products. More than half of them support fair trade, low energy products, and avoid excessive packaging (Zeyer and Roth, 2009)

4. Conclusion

Although the key intention behind the Swiss eco-friendly behaviour in waste management might vary, either out of environmental protection (96%), habit and convenience of nearby collection points (57%), financial considerations like tax (25%), or family influence (20%) (Hainard et al., 2012), there is abundant evidence that waste management is done effectively. 98% of the Swiss have a habit in sorting waste, and 86% consider themselves active in waste separation (Hainard, Cecchini, and Jacot, 2012, p. 42). Also, young people in Switzerland in 2006 scored higher than the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development average (OECD, 2009; Wolter et al., 2014). These pro-environmental behaviours and green knowledge do not come by chance. They stem from a well-considered and coordinated three-pronged approach. Well-established policy and regulations encompassing education and financial incentive provide the impetus for individuals to actively contribute to environmentally favourable household waste management.

The traditional environmental education model in the 1980s claimed that a change in attitude is pre-requisite to behavioural change in environmental protection. Eilam and Trop (2014, p. 23), however, pointed out a contrary view in their latest research, that it is in fact easier to influence adult behaviour than attitudes, explaining the success of some intensive behavioural campaigns in environmental protection in a short time. Also, they stated that successes can be reinforced by law, regulation and social pressure. This provides useful insights for countries who have frequent debates over time and resource investments in unlocking people’s ecological mindset as a precursor to pro-environmental behaviour.

To conclude, formal education would be expected to be more effective in influencing changes in behaviour, and together with financial initiatives, effective household waste management could be achieved through collaboration between educational institutions and authorities (Eilam and Trop, 2014). Countries which already have good infrastructure, well-established environmental policy and law, and an education plan in place could take reference to the Swiss integration approach in order to influence their population towards pro-environmental behaviour. 

5. References

Connolly, J., & Prothero, A. (2008). Green Consumption. Journal of Consumer Culture, 8(1), 117-145. doi:10.1177/1469540507086422

Coop. (2015).[Brochure]. Retrieved from

Eilam, E., & Trop, T. (2014). Factors Influencing Adults’ Environmental Attitudes and Behaviors and the Role of Environmental Schools in Influencing their Communities. Education and Urban Society, 46(2), 234-263. doi:10.1177/0013124512447100

Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN). (2013). Swiss Environmental Law - A Brief Guide(Publication No. UD-1-72-E). Retrieved from

Genoud, F. (2016). Message du Conseil Municipal au Conseil General concernant le nouveau règlement sur la gestion des déchets et la modification du règlement de protection de l'environnement de 1994 (version 2002) [Message of the Municipal Council to the General Council Concerning the New Regulation on the Management of Waste and the Modification of the Environmental Protection Regulation of 1994 (version 2002)]. Switzerland: Ville de Sierre. Retrieved from

Hainard, F., Cecchini, A., & Jacot, S. (2012). Pratiques de consommation en Suisse romande: enquête auprès des membres de la Fédération Romande des Consommateurs (FRC) [Consumer practices in French-speaking part of Switzerland: Survey of Members of the French Speaking Federation of Consumers (FRC)]. Neuchâtel, Switzerland: Université de Neuchâtel, Institut de Sociologie.

Hess, P. (2013, January 24). Pris la main dans le sac ! [Caught Red Hand !]Le Régional. Retrieved from

Jackson, L. (2016). Education for Sustainable Development: From Environmental Education to Broader Views. In Handbook of Research on Applied Learning Theory and Design in Modern Education(pp. 41-64). Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

Joos, W., Carabias, V., Winistoerfer, H., & Stuecheli, A. (1999). Social Aspects of Public Waste Management in Switzerland.Waste Management, 19(6), 417-425. doi:10.1016/S0963-9969(99)00087-3

Le Valais romand dévolile son sac poubelle taxé [The Romand Valais Region Reveals its Taxed Trash Bag]. (2017, September 4).Tribune de Genève. Retrieved from

Mombelli, A. (2017, August 9). Recyclage du plastique - Quand les poubelles regorgent de matières premières [Plastics Recycling –Raw Materials Abundantly Found in Trash]. (SWI). Retrieved fromères-premières/43356176

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OECD. (2015). Municipal Waste, Generation and Treatment Data Set -- % Material Recovery (Recycling + Composting), 2014 to 2015 [Data set]. Retrieved from  (October 26, 2017).

Petitpierre, A. (1999). Environmental Law in Switzerland. The Hague, The Netherlands: Kluwer Law International.

Skjellaug, A. (2016, September 6). Comment la Suisse transforme ses déchets en or [How Switzerland Transforms its Trash Into Gold].Le Temps. Retrieved from

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Wehrenberg, S., Reich, R., & Rich, L. (2016). Environment and Climate Regulation 2017, Switzerland. London: Getting the Deal Through.

Wolter, S. C., Cattaneo, M. A., Denzler, S., Diem, A., Grossenbacher, S., Hof Stefanie, & Chantal, O. (2014). Swiss Education Report 2014. Aarau, Switzerland: Swiss Coordination Centre for Research in Education (ISBN No. 978-3-905684-16-2).

Zeyer, A., & Elin, K. (2013). Environmental Education in a Cultural Context. In R. B. Stevenson, M. Brody, J. Dillon, & A. E. J. Wals (Eds.), International Handbook of Research on Environmental Education(pp. 206-212). New York: Routledge.

Zeyer, A., & Roth, W.-M. (2009). A Mirror of Society: A Discourse Analytic Study of 15- to 16-year-old Swiss Students’ Talk about Environment and Environmental Protection. Cultural Studies of Science Education, 4(4), 961-998. doi: 10.1007/s11422-009-9217-2

About the Author

Kwok Lai Kuen (Hazel)

MEd, The University of Hong Kong


Food Waste in Hong Kong

By Sun Yi Fei (Maggie)

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Background

3. Food Waste on Hong Kong

4. Reducing Food Waste in Hong Kong Schools

5. Food Wise Hong Kong Campaign

6. Solutions and Recommendations

7. Conclusion

8. References

9. About the Author

1. Introduction

Human beings cannot live without food. However, about 795 million people (approximately one in nine people) in the world do not have enough food for a healthy, active life (World Food Programme (WFP), 2015). On the other hand food waste in recent years has become a serious issue all over the world. As indicated by Gustavsson, Cederberg and Sonesson (2011), the per capita food loss and waste worldwide is more than one thousand kilograms. Due to the rapid growth of the world population, the issue is becoming more urgent. Therefore, there is a crucial need for greater awareness about the matter and proper solutions to improve the situation. This entry will explore the problem of food waste in Hong Kong, with a focus on government policies, education initiatives, and what the public can do.

2. Background

Chancellor (2010, p. 4) defines food waste as ‘all the food we do not eat’. As pointed out by Galanakis (2015, p. 7), food waste and food loss occur at various stages, including production, processing, retailing, and consumption (see Figure 1). The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) (2015) reports multiple causes of food waste. They include rigid or misunderstood date marking rules, improper storage, buying and/or cooking practices. Other possible factors can be bad weather, mechanical damage, unnecessarily high standards for quality, poor facilities, transportation, peeling, packaging, expiry periods, and lack of awareness, among others. According to FAO (2013), food waste has a number of negative impacts on land, water, climate and biodiversity. The situation can further lead to pollution, loss of arable land, misuse of water, climate change, and biodiversity loss. Food waste, therefore, demands immediate solutions.

Figure 1.  Stages of food supply chain at which food waste and food loss occur (FAO, 2013)

Figure 1. Stages of food supply chain at which food waste and food loss occur (FAO, 2013)

3. Food Waste in Hong Kong

As a city with a dense population, Hong Kong is facing a severe problem of food waste. According to the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) of Hong Kong, in 2012, 9,278 tons of municipal solid waste (MSW) was disposed of at landfills every day. About 36% (around 3,337 tons) of this waste was food waste. The food waste disposal is equivalent to throwing away the weight of approximately 250 double-decker buses every 24 hours, or nearly 100,000 double-decker buses every year (Environment Bureau (EB), 2014). The major reasons for food waste in Hong Kong are the low price of food, large portions served, people being too selective about food, people feeling obliged to order more than enough when treating others at restaurants to not lose face, and people not storing food properly (FOE, 2015).

In addition, the EPD (2015) states that ‘the amount of food waste from Commercial and Industry (C&I) sectors has been increasing, from 400 tons in 2002 to 1,003 tons in 2013’. The figure is steadily growing, threatening the ecological and environmental balance. Therefore, greater public attention and effective solutions are in urgent demand.

The government hopes to cut Hong Kong's food waste by 10 per cent in three years. In order to reach this goal, the government has put several solutions into practice. These solutions include mobilizing the community, promoting food waste separation, recycling, treating separated and non-separated food waste, and final disposal (EB, 2014). Moreover, EPD commissioned a pilot food waste composting plant in Kowloon Bay in 2008, and cooperated with the commercial and industrial sectors to conduct food waste recycling and treatment to produce useful compost (EPD, 2005). Additionally the Environment and Conservation Fund (ECF) ‘subsidized Home Ownership Scheme and private housing estates to organize education programs on food waste reduction and to install treatment facilities for food waste recycling’ (ISD, 2013). In the following sections, the Hong Kong government’s cooperation with schools to reduce food waste is explored.

4. Reducing Food Waste in Hong Kong Schools

Early childhood education for sustainability, an emerging field, recognizes that early learning is helpful for shaping children’s environmental beliefs, knowledge, and actions (UNESCO, 2008). It is, therefore, advisable to start teaching children to appreciate food at this stage of development. It is especially important to do this at school because, as the FOE’s (2015) findings indicate, ‘10% of commercial and industrial food waste comes from schools, with a quantity of 15,000 tons or over 30 million meal boxes a year’.

To address this problem, the government issued guidelines on meal arrangements in schools. In these guidelines, the word ‘environment’ and the phrase ‘environmentally friendly’ appear more than ten times, emphasizing the importance of being environmentally friendly (Education Bureau (EDB), 2015). Some of the most important guidelines include: promoting environmentally friendly eating habits; encouraging parents to prepare environmentally friendly lunch boxes; promoting responsibility to reduce waste; encouraging application for Community Waste Recovery Projects (Green Lunch) under ECF for installing kitchen facilities, kitchen furniture, dish washing facilities, utensils, and electrical/water installation works; supporting schools to design an environmentally friendly way to recycle containers; asking schools to only consider lunch suppliers that take account of environment protection and so on (EDB, 2015).

Additionally, the Education Bureau issued Circular No. 18/2009: Green lunch in school. Its objective is to encourage schools to use reusable food containers and cutlery; to facilitate students to use reusable cutlery; to portion out food in a flexible manner; to monitor the provision of green lunch on an ongoing basis; and to apply for funding support from ECF for switching from using disposable lunch containers to central portioning of lunch at schools (EDB, 2009). The EB also (2015) developed guidelines on how to promote green lunch in schools, to equip schools and school lunch suppliers with more information on how to be environmentally friendly. The EB (2015) concluded that from the waste reduction perspective, Central/On-Site Portioning is more desirable than Off-Site Portioning, because all the utensils are reusable, and the amount of food can be adjusted on request. Local organizations such as Friends of the Earth, Green Power and Food for Good also provide seminars, workshops, and visits for schools and students. With supports from different departments and organizations, schools can reduce food waste.

Although the process of avoiding food waste in schools is rewarding, the EB has (2015) pointed out some difficulties that can impede the process of implementation of these schemes. First, lunch suppliers may increase the prices if they use lunch boxes that are made from metal or other durable materials, as such materials are more expensive. Second, schools must be spacious enough to accommodate a canteen and the facilities needed for reheating food and washing dishes. Consequently, the lunch price may be higher since lunch suppliers will need to invest in such facilities. Additionally Epochhk (2008) points out that the guidelines are vague, lack a detailed directive, and do not put any constraints on schools and lunch providers. 

5. Food Wise Hong Kong Campaign

Figure 2.  Food Wise Hong Kong Campaign Advertisement (Food Wise Hong Kong, 2013)

Figure 2. Food Wise Hong Kong Campaign Advertisement (Food Wise Hong Kong, 2013)

The Food Wise Hong Kong Steering Committee was set up in 2012 to ‘drive leadership in food waste avoidance and reduction through working with leaders in this field in order to formulate and oversee the implementation of the Food Wise Hong Kong Campaign’ (MyGovHK, 2015). It is chaired by the Secretary for the Environment and is composed of members from relevant sectors including catering, hotels, retail, property management, education, academia, green groups, food recipient organizations, and other concerned government departments (Food Wise Hong Kong, 2013). The objectives of the campaign are:

1. Promote awareness in the community of the waste management problems in Hong Kong.

2. Coordinate efforts within the Government and public institutions to lead by example in food waste reduction.

3. Instill behavioral changes in the community at individual and household levels that will help reduce food waste generation.

4. Draw up and promote good practices on food waste reduction of commercial and industrial establishments.

5. Encourage leadership in the commercial, industrial and community sectors to take action and share best practices.

6. Facilitate food donation between the establishments with surplus food with charitable organizations in the community (Food Wise Hong Kong, 2013).

The committee frequently holds activities and events including promotion of food waste reduction schemes in different districts; workshops for households, shopping malls, hospitals, NGOs, social services, schools and higher education institutions; a Reduce Food Waste Competition; sharing sessions; and food recycling. The campaign takes different parties and stakeholders into consideration, and works hard to raise public awareness of their responsibilities for reducing food waste. Since its launch in 2013, food waste in Hong Kong has decreased from 38% of total MSW (about 3627 tons per day) in 2013 to 37% (about 3619 tons per day) in 2014 (EPD, 2015).

Some critics identify weaknesses of the campaign, however. Woo (2014, p. 40) argues that the ‘Food Wise Hong Kong Campaign mainly relied on the moral motives of Hong Kong residents…Hong Kong people are highly motivated by money…waste charging can have more conspicuous effects because it provides suitable financial incentives’. Woo also claims that having environmental knowledge is not enough. Hong Kong residents should be reminded of food waste source reduction continually and implement daily source reduction habits. Furthermore, the Food Wise Hong Kong Steering Committee can provide a collaboration platform for various stakeholders in the medium term, which can share successful food waste reduction experience, share food waste recycling facilities, and help each other overcome leftover reduction difficulties (Food Wise, 2013). Apple Daily (2015) reports that among 198 vendors from 18 markets, 66% did not participate in Food Wise because they did not know about the campaign or how to get involved. To improve the campaign, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) can be invited to assist the Committee. 

6. Solutions and Recommendations

To reduce food waste, the stages at which food waste and food loss occur should be understood (see Figure 1). Workshops for stakeholders should cover such topics as regulations and standards; vehicles for transportation and storage of food; and methods to calculate how much food to purchase. In restaurants, food servers can explain to customers portion sizes so they can make informed decisions about the amount of food they order. Penalties can be set for wasting food. Shopkeepers can remind customers of expiry dates and storage conditions of products. After shopping, people can keep receipts that can remind them of what food they have bought so they finish it. Supermarkets, restaurants, and markets can work with charity groups to give food to those in need.

School is a great place for promoting food waste reduction because children shape our future and can convey the ideas to their family members. More should be done in schools in Hong Kong. The government can design brochures for parents and videos for children. Some students eat less than others, so there should be lunch boxes with smaller portions for them. If students have lunch in canteens, additional portion should only be given on request.

Students should be encouraged to conserve food in everyday life. The procedures of processing food and the consequences of wasting food should be taught. Schools can have field trips where students, teachers, and students’ parents can experience the process of planting and harvesting. Competitions for designing posters and coining slogans, and for rewarding individuals or classes that waste the least food can be held to increase student motivation. The government can offer more support to schools by providing funding for designing relevant teaching materials,.

To raise public awareness, social media can be utilized. People can be encouraged to take pictures of their empty plates after meals and post them on their social media profiles with hashtags. Some prizes could be given to those who upload the most creative pictures or those whose pictures are liked and shared by the largest number of people.

Although the Hong Kong government has been trying to decrease food waste, it is hard to change people’s deep-seated cultural ideas about food. Researchers can explore this problem in order to minimize food waste.

7. Conclusion

Food waste is an urgent matter that requires everyone’s attention. The Hong Kong government has realized the seriousness of food waste and has taken actions to fix the problem. How schools are assisted and some programs for reducing food waste in Hong Kong were discussed in this entry. The government, schools, and other institutions and individuals can do much more to address this issue. 


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About the Author

Sun Yi Fei (Maggie)

MEd, The University of Hong Kong