Updated: Feb 22
About a week into your new life in Basel you’ll likely find yourself wondering what to do with the trash and recycling that is starting to pile up. Not surprisingly, Basel has a very specific way to deal with garbage. When you first get here, it seems like you might need a PhD to figure it out, but like everything else you soon get used to it.
The Canton of Basel-Stadt has a handy webpage where you can find out what to do with every imaginable type of waste - thank goodness for the translation feature on web browsers! If you live in Basel-Land there is a handy chart in its Welcome packet (see page 15). However, to save you a little time, here are the basics:
Bag and tag your trash. Trash disposal in Basel-Stadt and Basel-Land requires either a special bag or tag.
If you live in Basel-Stadt (not including Riehen and Bettingen) you will need to use special blue bags called “Bebbi Saggs”. You can purchase them at most grocery stores directly from the cashier or the customer service desk. They come in rolls of 10 in three sizes: 17L (CHF 12), 35L (CHF 23) and 60L (CHF 33). If you live in Riehen, Bettingen or Basel-Land you can buy regular trash bags that are stocked on grocery shelves, but you will need to buy stickers (individually or in sheets) from the customer service counter (just a note that there are not 17L stickers, rather you need to split a 35L sticker for the smaller 17L bag).
Neighbourhood watch. If you are confused about when to put out your trash/recycling just watch your neighbours.
If you live in an apartment building, you may have a collective bin where you place your bags and your building management will put the bin out on the scheduled date. If you live in a free-standing house or are required to put out your own trash, most likely you will put it on your curb. Garbage must be put out between 7PM the night before and 7AM the morning of the pickup.
There's an app for that. Basel-Stadt has a handy app (called Dräggwägg) you can use to find your collection dates and where to recycle different types of items.
In the city, garbage is normally picked up twice per week, with the days varying by zone. In other communities, pickup typically occurs once a week and you should receive the calendar by mail late in the calendar year.
Fun Fact: Why are the trash stickers/bags so darn expensive? It’s actually a brilliant idea! By pricing it this way the Swiss encourage recycling and overall less waste production. The Swiss have cut their trash from 800,000 tons/year to 400,000 tons/year since bag pricing was introduced in 1993.
There are three main ways to recycle things in Basel: curbside on the scheduled day, neighbourhood recycling stations and point of purchase recycling. Here’s a breakdown of what goes where:
Keep it tidy! You may notice that the Swiss keep their paper recycling incredibly tidy. Impress the locals with your neatly tied newspaper bundles!
Paper and cardboard: This stuff gets picked up curbside on a scheduled day, based on where you live. The catch here is that you either need to tie it up in a tidy bow or, in some Gemeindes (i.e. your town or village), you can purchase a specific bin in which you can just dump it all. Note that some collectors will pick up stuff in a bag (e.g. loose papers in a paper grocery bag), but this is not the case everywhere so it’s best to keep it tidy with string. While you are not required to separate paper and cardboard in Basel city other Gemeindes may require this unless you have the separate bin.
Yard Debris & Bulky Waste: You can dispose of yard debris and larger items, but need to do two things: 1) Purchase special vignettes (stickers) in a large enough size for the item and 2) schedule the pick-up via the Basel cleanliness hotline or online. Note that the process for yard waste is different outside of the city. For instance in Riehen and Bettingen there is free curbside pick-up every other week (you just need a big green bin). Make sure to check with your local Gemeinde for this information.
Christmas tree disposal. Basel even has a plan for picking up your Christmas trees! For surrounding areas please check with your local Gemeinde.
Neighbourhood recycling stations
Never on a Sunday! Remember you can be fined for recycling during the city quiet hours of 7PM to 7AM and of course on Sundays.
Glass: You can recycle glass at your neighborhood recycling station. It’s separated by brown, white and green glass. Other colors (e.g. blue) should be recycled with green glass.
Aluminum/tin: You can recycle these items at the neighbourhood recycling center as well. This includes all food metal containers including drink cans, pet food cans, foil, metal bottle lids, aluminum food tubes (e.g. ketchup or mayo...it can still have its lid and not be totally empty) - basically anything with the ALU symbol on it. Non-food items should not be put in here.
Point of purchase (Grocery Stores)
PET plastic: These get recycled at point of purchase (many Coops and Migros have little areas for them). This is your typical plastic water bottle and similar products. Make sure it has the PET symbol.
Other plastics: You can recycle PE bottles (white bottles) like milk bottles and laundry detergent containers at the grocery store too.
Batteries & Glass Bulbs: Typically, these can be brought to your grocery stores as well or some neighbourhood recycling stations.
Want to take this off your plate? Too complicated and time consuming? There are a couple companies that will take care of all your recycling, for a small fee of course. No need to sort or drop off, they will do it all for you. Check out Eco House Recycling and Mr. Green
Want to compost? Some neighborhoods (or even buildings) have their own composting systems. And some communities deal with “green” waste differently (for instance in Riehen you can mix all food scraps in with your yard debris and it all gets used for bio gas production). While there is no automatic compost pick-up, you can request a free consultation from the city in Basel and they can help you set up your own system or alternative ways to compost in your area.
In addition to these standard items there are ways to recycle other types of items, but the process can vary based on where you live or where you purchased it. Often you can take items to your local recycling park but it is best to check with your local Gemeinde to determine what else gets recycled and when and where to bring it. Also, https://recycling-map.ch/en/ is a great resource that allows you to enter your zipcode and explore where different items can be recycled. And for those living outside the city keep an eye on your mail in December for that handy waste management calendar!
Author’s note: We do our best to provide accurate information. If you notice something that is incorrect or that has changed please make a note in the comments for this post. Thank you!