A Swiss city encourages residents to reduce waste

The city of Carouge, Switzerland, is conducting an experiment where coaches help families to reduce their incinerated waste by 30 percent in three years.

April 15, 2019 12:32 am | Updated 09:13 am IST

Zero Waste Workshop

Zero Waste Workshop

The “Carouge Zero Waste” operation has a misleading title. Its objective is ambitious but not full-scale: to reduce incinerated waste by 30 percent in three years. The city of Carouge, next to Geneva, hopes to become the first zero waste city in Switzerland. Since 2018, residents have attended workshops and DIY meetings on waste-related topics ranging from household products to food. 

Twenty-five households now benefit from personalized coaching and supervision from volunteer members of the Zero Waste Switzerland association, who have all reduced their waste by 50 percent or more. In person or by video call, the parties reviewed the families’ progress every two weeks for six months. 

The households all met for the first time on October 15. While several children sat and colored in the back of the room, Carouge’s mayor Nicolas Walder (Les Verts) reminded parents that there is “a small window of opportunity in the coming years to save our planet.” The coaches, mainly women dressed in striped sailor t-shirts, introduced themselves to the families they were assigned to. 

Dorinda Phillips, the project’s leader for Zero Waste Switzerland, asked the group a simple question: “How much waste do you produce?” Everyone took a few seconds to think about it. Those who didn’t measure their waste in kilos answered in volumes: “A 35-liter bag each week,” replied a man in the audience. The households would have to weigh their waste at the beginning and end of the six-month coaching operation to certify whether they were making any progress. 

All insisted the operation could only work if people changed their habits one at a time, and everyone at his or her own pace. 

In the audience, Stéphanie, 51, was realistic about her abilities: “I buy fruit and vegetables from the Union maraîchère [Geneva’s agricultural cooperative], but we would have to stop working to be able to do everything ourselves – make yogurt for the children and so on. Now I’m on holiday, so I have time to bake cakes. But when I work, 150 percent of the time I shop at the last minute before the market closes, and the purchases are not that thoughtful.” She said that after seeing a film or an exhibition on these issues, “we’re super enthusiastic, but then we forget.” 

Sofia, a member of Zero Waste Switzerland, told the newcomers about her experience in hopes of motivating them. For her, the trigger came when the so-called “zero-waste movement pope,” bestselling author Bea Johnson, gave a lecture in Geneva two years earlier: “It changed my life. It was exactly what I was looking for – something authentic. One thing she said left a deep impression on me: that she had decided to live by the verb ‘to be’ instead of ‘to have.’” Sofia explained that she had reduced her shopping needs every Saturday to focus on the essentials: “At first it wasn’t easy – very small gestures require intense and constant reflection.” 

The families received a discovery kit with a jar of baking soda and a bottle of vinegar for cleaning, to be stored separately because, Phillips said, “what we are looking for is the foam effect that only appears when they are mixed together.” Families also received a vegetable sponge for dishwashing, lemon-scented cleaning soap, and another soap for hands, made with oat milk from the Geneva soap factory Kaolin. It was up to each family to make the most of these.  

Hélène learned to make her own lip balm and household products. For the scent of the balm, she chose mint: “It will clear the nose!” she said. The mixture, poured into small reusable aluminum containers, made her entourage happy last Christmas.  

Another family used to produce two to three kilos of incinerable waste per week, and have since reduced it considerably. “It’s hard to go any further. Our record is 500 grammes!” said Nuria, the family’s mother. On the evening of the report, they went through the contents of their garbage, then three days old. They found oat milk cartons inside. “We are in a transition phase. When I finish my stock, I’ll make it myself,” said Nuria, “but the one packaging I can’t avoid, is tofu’s. » 

This article is being published as part of Earth Beats, an international and collaborative initiative gathering 18 news media outlets from around the world to focus on solutions to waste and pollution.  



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