Switzerland has been pursuing a strategy to optimise packaging for more than 20 years. The aim is 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, the assessments, which serve both producers and retailers, have been progressively updated. With awareness fostered early on, for common consumer goods distributors now generally use optimised packaging that is lightweight and designed to be recycled or at least disposed of easily as municipal solid waste.

1. Harmonisation with EU regulations

As Switzerland is not a member of the European Union, EU regulations concerning packaging are not binding in our country. Nevertheless, the authorities are committed to harmonising the national regulations with EU rules so that goods can be traded freely. Unlike in the EU, in Switzerland there is no one piece of legislation that addresses all types of packaging, and none is planned. However, regulations concerning specific types of packaging and their characteristics do exist.

2. Current regulations

Legal provisions on packaging can be found in the Environmental Protection Act, in particular Articles 30–30e, 32 and 32abis, and in 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 avoided in voluntary agreements (e.g. chlorine-containing plastics such as PVC).

There are specific regulations to protect the environment that apply to beverage containers (except for milk and dairy product packaging). These aim to reduce waste, promote the recovery of beverage packing where possible and avoid the use of unwanted packaging materials. The Ordinance on Beverage Containers contains the following regulations:

  • Packaging must not interfere with existing recycling systems for glass, PET beverage bottles, aluminium cans or tin cans
  • Reusable packaging is subject to a deposit and must be clearly marked as reusable
  • Manufacturers etc. who supply beverages in non-refillable PET or metal containers (aluminium or tin) must either make a financial contribution to an existing recycling organisation or take the containers back
  • Disposable packaging in PVC is subject to a deposit
  • There is a minimum recycling target of 75% for glass, PET and aluminium packaging
  • Recycling organisations must declare the volume of packaging they intend to recycle each year
  • There is a prepaid disposal fee (PDF) on glass bottles

The amount of the PDF on glass bottles is defined in a separate ordinance.
Other regulations on 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, e.g. foodstuffs, pharmaceuticals, toxic or radioactive substances, compressed gases, explosives, fertilisers, agricultural products and agrochemicals, or disinfectants. These regulations appear in a large number of different legal texts, which must be referred to individually.

Additional regulations may be issued by cantonal or local authorities for their own area. Please apply to these authorities for more information.

Unlike the EU, Switzerland does not have a general obligation to declare packaging materials or packaging. Nor is there a levy in this country on packaging materials or packaging used. Only beverage packaging made of glass is already subject to an advance disposal fee. The relevant rules are laid down in the Beverage Packaging Ordinance (SR 814.621).
Furthermore, in Switzerland there are no legal requirements to label packaging with information about correct disposal or recycling. The ‘Green dot’ or comparable markings and symbols may be left on the packaging when goods are imported into Switzerland. However, they lose their significance in this country. The association Swiss Recycling provides a range of pictograms for recyclable material and material disposal that can be used voluntarily and free of charge.

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).

4. Financing

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.

5. Life cycle assessment of beverage containers

In 2014, the FOEN published a study on the life cycle assessment of beverage containers. Since then, the methodology for conducting a life cycle assessment has changed. For this reason, the Swiss Association for Environmentally Sound Beverage Containers (SVUG), together with the Swiss Beverage Carton Recycling Association (Verein Getränkekarton-Recycling) and with the support of the FOEN, had the ecological impact of beverage containers analysed by using data from 2022 and applying the latest methodology. The results of the study show that lightweight, reusable packaging has a lower environmental impact than heavy packaging with low filling volumes. Different packaging systems are used depending on the type of beverage - there does not exist a single optimal packaging type that could be recommended for all kinds of beverages. Yet, the study concludes that there is potential for improvement regarding the environmental footprint in all sectors of the beverage industry. However, the greatest potential for reducing the environmental impact lies in the beverage production itself.

Further information

Last modification 13.06.2024

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