Switzerland has been following a strategy to optimize packaging for more than 20 years. This means that it aims to reduce the environmental impact of packaging as much as possible over its entire life-cycle, from production to disposal.
The first life-cycle assessments of existing packaging alternatives were carried out and published in 1984. Since then, this instrument, serving producers and retailers, has been progressively updated. Thanks to this early fostering of awareness, distributors now generally use optimized packaging for common consumer goods, namely alternatives that are lightweight and designed for recycling or at least for a trouble-free disposal along with municipal solid waste.
1. Relations with EU regulations
As Switzerland is not a member of the European Union, the EU regulations concerning packaging are not binding in our country. Nevertheless, the authorities are committed to harmonising the national regulations with the EU rules, so as to facilitate an unobstructed exchange of goods. Swiss law - unlike that of its neighbours - does not aim to encompass all packaging: no general ordinance on packaging exists and none is planned. Nevertheless, prescriptions concerning specific types of packaging or their characteristics do exist.
2. Current regulations
The relevant general legal texts pertaining to packaging are the Law relating to the protection of the environment, in particular art. 30-30e, 32 and 32abis and the Ordinance on the reduction of risks linked to chemical products. Environmentally harmful substances are either banned by law in goods with a short lifespan such as packaging (e.g. cadmium or mercury) or by voluntary agreements (e.g. chlorine-containing plastics such as PVC).
Specific, environmentally-motivated regulations apply to beverage containers (except for milk and dairy products). They aim to reduce the amounts of waste, promote the recovery of suitable beverage containers and avoid unwanted packaging materials. The ordinance on beverage containers contains the following regulations:
- Packaging must not perturb existing recycling systems for glass, PET beverage bottles, aluminium cans or tin cans
- Reusable packaging is subject to a deposit and an obligatory marking
- Disposable packaging in PET or metal (aluminium and tin) is either subject to the payment of a financial contribution to an existing recycling organisation or must be taken back
- Disposable packaging in PVC is subject to an obligatory deposit
- Packaging in glass, PET and aluminium are subject to a minimal recycling target of 75%
- The amounts of beverages and packaging are subject to mandatory declaration
- Glass bottles are subject to a prepaid disposal fee (PDF)
The amount of the PDF on glass bottles is defined in a separate ordinance.
Other regulations pertaining to packaging concern health protection, security, transport, customs, marking, etc. Packaging may also be subject to specific regulations depending on what it is meant to contain, i.e. foodstuffs, pharmaceuticals, toxic or radioactive substances, compressed gases, explosives, fertilisers, agricultural products and adjuvants, or disinfectants. These regulations are dispersed through a large number of legal texts and must be treated on a case by case basis.
It is conceivable that additional regulations may be issued by cantonal or local authorities for their own area. If so, these will need to be ascertained locally.
3. Disposal paths and responsibilities
The Swiss regulations concerning packaging waste are comparatively limited, not least because the avoidance, recovery and disposal of such waste on a voluntary basis is working well, as exemplified by the generalised and cost-free separate collections of paper and cardboard, glass, PET beverage bottles, tin and aluminium cans. These are carried out in part by the municipal services, in part by private organisations. The other packaging waste (packages in composite materials) is disposed of along with the unsorted municipal waste in incineration plants with energy recovery. The responsibility lies with the cantons (LPE, art. 31b).
The costs of waste management are covered according to the polluter pays principle (LPE, art. 2). Prepaid disposal fees or a prepaid recycling contribution finance the recyclable elements, while for mixed solid waste, taxes are levied on the rubbish bags. Where packaging waste is concerned, only the prepaid disposal fee on glass bottles is at present prescribed by law. Voluntary systems set up by the private industry cater to the recovery of PET beverage bottles, aluminium and tin cans. Producers, importers and retailers contribute to these systems in that they generally refund the prepaid disposal fee levied on these products to the competent organisation without protest.
Ökobilanz Getränkeverpackungen (PDF, 2 MB, 10.09.2014)Study commissioned by the FOEN, in German with summary in English, French and Italian
Last modification 05.07.2019