Thanks to consumers, large volumes of glass bottles and jars are collected and submitted for recycling. This enables savings in both energy and raw materials. All kinds of foreign matter pose problems for glass recycling.
Glass is a heavy packaging material, however it has numerous advantages: it does not affect flavour or taste, it is acid-resistant and is not gas permeable. This makes it ideal for storing "delicate" contents like wines, fruits and vegetables and certain drugs. The glass used for packaging differs in its composition from the glass used for window panes, furniture, mirrors and drinking glasses.
Glass is mainly manufactured from silica sand, lime and soda. These raw materials are abundant and their extraction does not pose any problems for the environment. However, the production processes is very energy intensive and requires temperatures of almost 1600° C.
Waste glass is either reused or recycled. In the case of re-use, the glass, mostly bottles, is cleaned and re-filled by beverage producers. During recycling, broken packaging glass is melted down and reconstituted or used as insulation material or glass sand in construction. Recycling saves energy compared with the production of new glass. The separate collection of waste class also alleviates the burden on waste incineration plants and landfills.
For many years now, consumers have been collecting over 90% of the volume of packaging glass placed on the market each year. Each person submits far in excess of 40 kg of glass for recycling annually. The collection system has been in existence since the 1970s and has become a well established tradition.
The Ordinance on Beverage Containers (BCO) prescribes a minimum recycling rate of 75 %. If this rate is not attained, the federal authorities can impose a deposit system. All market participants are subject to notification requirements: the BCO (Art. 18 and 19) stipulates that the weight of glass beverage containers, including imports and exports, placed on the market and returned must be notified. These legal requirements only apply to beverage containers, i.e. in most cases glass bottles. In accordance with the Technical Ordinance on Waste, the cantons are obliged to organise the separate collection of waste glass. What is usually involved here is a bring system: consumers deposit the packaging glass in containers at public collection points. Some communes have a pick-up system and provide kerbside collection.
Waste glass is mostly collected in the form of broken glass (cullet). Colour sorting (usually, white, brown and green or other colours) is important for optimal recycling. Some communes provide special containers for glass bottles that are intended for re-use.
All kinds of impurities make recycling difficult. Cigarette butts and liquid chemicals increase the cleaning required. Ceramic elements and drinking glass fragments with their high lead content reduce the quality during melting-down. Crockery (glass, pottery, ceramics), earthenware pots and flat glass (windows, mirrors, furniture glass) should not be placed in glass containers. Small volumes of these materials are disposed of with construction rubble in landfills. Some recycling solutions exist for larger volumes of uniform waste from industrial and commercial concerns.
The website of the recycling associations provides a map indicating the locations of the waste glass collection points.
Most of the collected waste glass is melted down. One third is processed in Switzerland, another third in glass works in neighbouring countries. New glass containers are made from this glass. The remaining third is mostly used to produce construction and insulation materials (e.g. cellular glass).Only a small proportion of waste glass, that from used bottle collections, is sent to washing plants for re-use.
VetroSwiss is responsible for the financing of glass collection and recycling. Since 2002, the organisation has been levying a prepaid disposal fee on all glass beverage bottles on behalf of the FOEN. The ordinance on the prepaid disposal contribution for glass beverage containers (Verordnung über die Höhe der vorgezogenen Entsorgungsgebühr für Getränkeverpackungen aus Glas) stipulates the fee imposed, which is between CHF 0.02 and 0.06. The proceeds are used to pay the waste glass collectors, often communes, special-purpose associations, transport companies and processing centres, and for public relegations work. Due to the greater cost involved, a higher fee is paid for colour sorting.
Report of imported or exported beverage containers for recycling (PDF, 33 kB, 20.12.2018)(in German, French and Italian)
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