Implementing an ecological waste management



Country: a) Western Europeb) Switzerland
Type: Policy, Concept, 1
Area: City/Town, 100,000 - 1 mill.
Actors: Local government, Regional government, NGO
Funding: Local government
Topics: Information and public participation
Solid waste
Objectives: Increase public awareness
Increase use of clean technology
Waste avoidance
Waste recycling
Instruments: Integrated planning approach
New environmental policies and regulations
Public participation


In the middle of the eighties a fundamental reorientation of waste policy took place in the City of Zurich. Whereas waste management previously focused on waste incineration, a concept was now developed with new priorities, based on avoiding and recycling waste as well as on disposing of waste in an environmentally-friendly manner. The activities of the Zurich Waste Department (Abfuhrwesen Zürich - AWZ) are an example of local good practice for the following reasons:

Concept and aims


For decades the Zurich Waste Department (Abfuhrwesen Zürich - AWZ) removed waste and burned it to keep the city clean. During the 70s and 80s the view developed that the impending disposal problems were no longer solvable by incinerating waste and dumping the residues. Consequently, in June 1986 the Federal Office of Environment, Forests and Landscape developed a concept for waste disposal services in Switzerland. This concept established new priorities for the handling of waste and, by means of the Technical Regulation for Waste Materials (TVA) dated December 1990, received an effective legal instrument for their implementation.

As early as 1985 the Social Democrat Party in the City of Zurich launched an initiative which called for an ecological waste management system based on the Swiss waste policy:

Under the pressure of increasing quantities of waste, the City of Zurich started an initiative for a deep and comprehensive reorientation of the local waste management system. In far-reaching discussions between the Public Health and Economic Affairs Department and with the Zurich City Council, guidelines were worked out for an ecological, city-wide waste management system and for an advanced, ecological waste policy.

On December 2, 1990, the electorate of Zurich agreed to this with a „Yes“-majority of 70% and formulated new specifications for the waste disposal service. Now its duty is the avoidance of waste, the ecological re-use and environmentally-friendly disposal of waste, the establishment and operation of collection services and of associated plants. These instructions provided the political basis for redefining Zurich waste handling policy. In the same referendum, a credit of more than 18 million Swiss francs was approved with which a dense network of recycling points was established throughout the entire city. The aim is to increase the proportion of separately collected useful materials from about 22% to 40% by 1997.

In general, the ecological waste management system of the Zurich Waste Department is supported by four measures:

  1. Fundamental legal provisions contained in the city council order, the new Waste Material Regulation and the Waste Charge Order operating on the originator-based responsibility principle.
  2. A waste concept which indicates the ways by which the creation of waste may be avoided and useful materials separated out.
  3. Information and advice to businesses and the population as well as professional public relations work to make the public and the business community aware of the problems and possible solutions associated with waste. The responsibility of the AWZ to provide information and advice is especially recorded in the Waste Material Regulation.
  4. Equipping AWZ plants with the latest technologies for the clean incineration of waste as an immediate measure to comply with environmental politics.

Implementation and impacts


Encouragement of the re-use and recycling of so-called useful materials is mainly promoted by the project „Zurich Recycling“, the introduction of the „Züri-Sacks“ and the intensification of information work.

1. The project "Zurich Recycling"

Starting in 1991 a city-wide collection of recyclable waste as well as the removal of compost in two areas were introduced. Around 170 user-friendly collection points were established to make it easier for the population to hand over recycling materials. AWZ collects broken glass, wine bottles (to be washed and recycled), metals (aluminium, tin plates etc.) and used oil. Especially the collection sites close to supermarkets and car parks are accepted by the public. Meanwhile, the expansion of this system to housing areas turned out to be very difficult. A considerable number of residents opposed these plans as they were afraid of noise pollution. Therefore, the collection banks had to be placed in a certain distance from houses.

In addition, this project promoted composting by introducing for the first time special removal in two areas. This `green collection´ was quickly accepted in these areas. Decentralised composting in one´s own garden or in the residential areas is another essential part of the AWZ´s plan for an ecological waste management system. AWZ distinguishes between different forms of decentralised composting:

  1. Treatment of green and kitchen waste in the gardens of detached houses and small housing blocks of up to 4 households. The implementation is trouble-free because the citizens can make their own arrangements about the garden and the equipment.
  2. Composting in the more than 6,000 family gardens in the City of Zurich.
  3. Communal composting, principally of kitchen waste from 5 to around 100 households on the communal areas belonging to multi-family blocks and residential areas.

2. The "Züri-Sack"

From January 1, 1993 originator-based sack charges were introduced in the City of Zurich. The sack charge is a central feature of the new Waste Material Regulation. Together with a ground charge based on room count and levied on property owners, it must cover 100% of the cost of removing waste from households. Only material which cannot be recycled, the so-called incinerator waste, finds its way into the Züri-Sacks. Useful materials, however, can be left at the collection points of Zurich Recycling free of charge. By these means, the Waste Department offers the people of Zurich a financial incentive through the sack charge and an additional motivation to support Zurich Recycling.

The charge on the largest Züri-Sack of 110-litre capacity has been 3 Swiss francs since January 1, 1993. For the 60-litre sack 2.10 Swiss francs is charged, 1.25 Swiss francs or 65 Cents respectively for the 35- or 17-litre sacks.

3. The information campaign

A credible and long-term information campaign with consumer-oriented advice is regarded as an important trail-blazer of the new waste management approach in Zurich. The launching of the ecological waste management system is based on marketing methods like the promotion of a new product.

The objectives of the AWZ information measures are

The campaign addresses around 360,000 private customers and approximately the same number of waste generating workplaces in Zurich´s businesses. In addition to a wide range of information material and advertising, a waste disposal advice centre offers help to the public and business communities.

One major field of information activities is the promoting of composting. In the last years communal composting in the garden has progressed from the hobby of individuals to a recognised disposal system for kitchen and garden waste. The advice centre of the Waste Department informs „compost volunteers“ not only on the choice of method depending on the local conditions but also on how to set up a working compost group and by passing information to those involved. By sending regular circulars and organising attractive activities, AWZ tries to interest as many Zurich citizens as possible in making their own compost.

Results and Impacts


The Waste Department has made the change from being a pure incineration operation to that of an ecological waste management system and a service supplier in only a few years. Over 97% of the population of Zurich cooperate willingly with the new system and accept the sack charge (survey carried out in June 1995). The reasons for this acceptance were, in addition to consumer-oriented marketing and extensive publicity services, a public relations campaign for the Waste Department which was modelled on the consumer goods industry.

Thanks to the efficient combination of Züri-Sack and Zurich Recycling the 1993 separate collection quota could be increased by more than 10 % from 21 % to about 34 % in 1995. Meanwhile, incinerator waste has been reduced about 24 %. The aim of a recycling quota of 40 % can also be reached by the extension of the `green collection´. Therefore, this collection is going to be introduced city-wide. Simultaneously, these areas will get once-weekly waste removal. Over the years up to 1996 and as a result of intensive advisory activities of the Waste Department, including the family gardens and the detached houses, a total of between 50,000 and 60,000 households could be actively involved as decentralised compost producers. In consequence, almost one third of all households are participating.

Due to the growth in complexity of waste disposal logistics new planning and management tools had to be developed in the City of Zurich. Today, the collection routes are constantly updated on a computer-controlled logistics optimisation system to accommodate continuously changing new requirements so as to make optimum use of staff and vehicles. At the same time the requirements of the customers should be met.

As a result of the intensive advertising and information campaign, the Züri-Sacks have rapidly become firmly established in the disposal habits of the people of Zurich.

Actors and Structures


Waste disposal in Switzerland is a local council responsibility. The federation and the cantons specify the framework conditions but the task itself must be carried out by the local councils. In consideration of this extensive task many local councils have formed associations which tackle these problems collectively and also finance them on a similar basis. The Zurich region proceeds in this way. In consequence, the City of Zurich operates and finances its incineration plants at its own cost and at its own risk.

In order to achieve optimum operating size, Zurich has made long-term disposal contracts with 52 surrounding local councils with a total of about 600,000 inhabitants. These local councils pay a cost- covering incineration contribution per ton and thus sharing the operating and financial costs of the plant. Some of these local councils have also joined the Züri-Sack system of the City of Zurich.

Due to these responsibility, the Zurich Waste Department - with an annual expenditure of 149,952 Swiss Francs and a staff of 403 in 1995 - is the main actor in the implementation of the ecological waste management. In promoting the idea of recycling and composting - especially by an information campaign - its section for public relations plays an important part. In addition, the AWZ advice centre informs for example "compost volunteers" on composting methods.



The introduction of the "Züri-Sack" followed the "polluter pays"-approach as the citizen has to pay exactly for his specific waste quantity. However, in order to increase the acceptance of the "Züri-Sack", this collection does not cover the true costs. It is hoped that the charge can be raised over the years. In addition, the general waste charge has been reduced since the introduction of the "Züri-Sack".

Furthermore, the Waste Department could not increase this general waste charge as the citizens of Zurich voted against this plan in a referendum on 4th December 1994, although average costs are only 180 Swiss francs per citizen and year, i.e. 0.4 % of average income. As a result of this, AWZ examined its running costs and tried to make use of saving potentials. Once again in June 1996, the citizens of Zurich voted against an increase of charges. Therefore, AWZ´s new ecological waste management approach is running at a loss.

However, it became clear that the average costs for the recycling system is lower than the costs for incinerating waste. In comparison, the recycling activities are economically still feasible.

Source of Information


Abfuhrwesen Zürich 1995: Geschäftsbericht 1995

Abfuhrwesen Zürich 1995: Zurich, a city solves its waste problem

Béchir, Philippe (AWZ-public relations) 1995: Entsorgungsstruktur im Zusammenhang von Abfallaufkommen und -zusammensetzung, manuscript for a lecture on the 8th International Recycling Congress, 4th December 1995, in Berlin

Brunner, Ulrich / Zürcher, Dieter / Seiler, Benno / Schwank, Othmar 1996: Ökologische und ökonomische Auswirkungen der neuen Abfallbewirtschaftung in der Stadt Zürich, in: Müll und Abfall, Nr.5, S.325-335

City of Zurich, Department of Health & Environment 1995: Environmental Policy of the City of Zurich - Local Agenda 21


Telefon:++41 / 1 / 305 77 11
Telefax:++41 / 1 / 302 45 76
Address:Head of the Zurich Waste
Abfuhrwesen Zürich (AWZ)
Hagenholzstrasse 110
CH - 8050 Zürich


Zürich :

The city of Zürich, with 356,000 inhabitants, is part of a conurbation of some 900,000 people. While population within the city fell over the years by 40% at the beginning of the 1990s, employment has increased from 290,000 in 1965 to more than 360,000 in 1991. In particular, office and retail activities contribute in large part to make Zürich a centre for the service and financial sector. Zürich has a university and several colleges of higher professional training. The city covers an area of 92 square kilometres, and the compact structure of the buildings in the heart of the city has been largely maintained.



Project was added at 23.01.1997
Project was changed at 10.03.1998

Extract from the database 'SURBAN - Good practice in urban development', sponsored by: European Commission, DG XI and Land of Berlin
European Academy of the Urban Environment · Bismarckallee 46-48 · D-14193 Berlin · fax: ++49-30-8959 9919