Navigating Lucerne’s Waste Disposal System – the unsexy side of living in Switzerland

One of my Swiss cultural shocks and mental hurdles was, and still is, dealing with the disposal of my garbage, papers and “other stuff”.  What am I supposed to do and when? Where do I buy the “blue – real – recycling” bags? How do I get rid of my newspapers and cardboard correctly without feeling guilty?  Once I didn’t know what to do with a plastic bottle so I put it in a random metal container. This is a big no, no. In a recent news article I read about an individual placing a plastic bottle within his paper bundle and being fined CHF 1,000. – . In Switzerland disposal and recycling is serious business.

The good news is that every Luzern household just received the 2014 “Removal Pickup Dates and Instructions Information” in the form of a German language cover letter and three printed brochures.

Over a quiet morning coffee, I read the contents that included instructions on how to do everything correctly, with printed information in English too. The bad news is that 95% is in German, takes time to read, understand and implement.  This is the first time I really looked at the cover letter. It explains what the copy on the blue recycling bags – “real” means; Recycling, Enstorgung (disposal), Abwasser (sewage), Luzern.

Garbage Bags

Now I know the meaning on the blue bags I need to buy in order to dispose my garbage from the kitchen bin to one of the big outside containers. And yes, I can buy these “blue real recycling bags” at the check-out counter at any grocery store. The 60-liter size works just right for my garbage bin; a roll of 10 costs CHF 26. –

The “real” cover letter title on the top says Abfuhrplan 2014 – Removal / Pickup Systems Calendar with dates for all of 2014. You will want to keep and put the two main printed brochures somewhere visible so you will remember where they are located to check the various instructions and pick up dates.


Documentation you will want to keep is photographed above

Now that I mustered courage and strength, I read the blue brochure titled “Stadt Luzern” and in the middle of the front page I read, “Waste disposal summarized”.  There are 11 languages used to describe what you are supposed to do.  English is under GB.

The back cover of the Blue Brochure explains how to dispose of newspapers, cardboard and green waste; lawn clippings and twigs. The GB copy reads: Waste paper will be collected if bundled and tied or placed in waste paper containers. I don’t have lots of cardboard and don’t have lawn clippings or twigs to discard however those two things are also explained on the GB line too.

Now I need to confess for the first year in Luzern, I put my newspapers in a paper bag and placed them next to the pile of the other newspapers. A couple of times they took it but one month there was a sticker on my two bags that said….Not acceptable…. and my two bags where the only ones still sitting on the pavement. Embarrassed, I took them back inside.  I bought a couple of rolls of string and now take the time to bundle and tie up just like everyone else.

The printed brown cover “real” heading brochure with the kid on the front that says Abfuhrplan 2014 (Disposal / Pickup Calendar for 2014) is also one you will want to keep somewhere visible where you can go back and review.

Dates for Garbage Pick-up in your Street

Here’s how you navigate this printed brochure for your household.

Know your street pick up dates by matching your street name # with the matching # in the brochure and identify the dates when paper, cardboard and green waste will be picked up on your street. The information is all in German however just check the “Strassenverzeichness” menu and you will figure it out.

Let’s use my street as the example. On the bottom blue menu tag “Strassenverzeichnis” (street index), I looked for my street. It appears that all the Luzern streets are listed and so should yours. I see that Langensandstrasse # is 47.

Now I go and look for Tour number 47 and see the listed pick up dates. Under Paper it reads Do, 7 Uhr, meaning Thursday by 7.00 a.m. So my papers need to be out on the street by then.  The first date for paper pick up is 30.1, meaning Jan 30, a Thursday. For cardboard I read the first date is 4.1, Jan 04. For metals I read the first date is 28.3, March 28 and so on and so forth.

Recycling Centers

If you want to get rid of your garbage and recyclable goods outside the dates offered in your neighborhood you can always go to one of the local recycling stations, situated in Emmebrücke, Horw and Ebikon, you can drop things off during their opening hours found here: Recycling Centers

Yes, this is all a bit more complicated than just dragging a garbage can to the front of the street once a week where the city waste truck picks it up and all the garbage handled. At least that’s how it worked for me living in Atlanta, GA for the past 25 years.  Switzerland is ranked as the most competitive country in the world for the fifth consecutive year as listed in the World Economic Forum annual global competitiveness index ahead of Singapore, Finland, Germany, the United States and Sweden. (

When I checked on the various criteria why Switzerland is ranked # 1, I discovered that “Sustainability” is one of the key variables. What we do in Luzern is done across entire Switzerland and every Swiss complies. So if this “recycling” system is new to us; it’s probably a good habit to get into. To know we are making our planet a healthier place to live in is a good reminder of the purpose of all this is. I’m now motivated to do a better job in tying my paper and carton bundles.

For more information here’s a Real video clip in English:

Here’s the “real” help line: 0800-22-32-55. They answer in German but when you speak English the receptionist will either respond back in English and / or forward to someone who does.

Good luck in navigating and lowering your household and family garbage disposing anxiety levels. Happy Luzern recycling.

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