Hedgehogs spread the word in Geneva
The unassuming hedgehog has been recruited by the authorities in Geneva to persuade people to recycle more of their rubbish.
Over 150 of these cute creatures have invaded the streets of Geneva and its suburbs to spread the word: that many things - from motor oil to old sofas, from clothes to potato peelings - can be re-used.
Needless to say, we are not talking about real hedgehogs. These animals with a mission are huge, very colourful and made of fibreglass and polyester.
"We want to arouse people's curiosity, and remind them that recyclable waste shouldn't simply be thrown out with the rest of the rubbish," says Eve Siegenthaler, head of the canton's waste management information service, Inf-eau-déchêts.
For the past 10 years the prickly creature has been the symbol of this recycling information service, and its image adorns many rubbish bins around the city.
In front of each hedgehog is written the campaign's slogan: "All Geneva recycles its waste" along with the telephone number of Inf-eau-déchêts. The canton hopes these benevolent beasts will convince people that it is their civic duty to make recycling part of their daily routine.
The hedgehogs are all the same shape and size - about a metre high, a metre wide, 1.6 metres long, and weighing in at 20 kilogrammes. But they are all unique.
"Local companies and communes were invited to buy a hedgehog and decorate it," Siegenthaler explained to swissinfo. "Some were painted by professional artists or designers, others by schoolchildren. They are all very different."
Some are decorated with themes linked to the business that owns them - flowers for florists, bread for bakers, aeroplanes for Geneva airport. Others have chosen specifically environmental themes. One company bought five hedgehogs and has devoted one each to earth, air, nature, water and fire.
But don't even think about stealing one of these amazing creations. They are held in place by a slab of concrete weighing 180 kilogrammes.
The main reason for the campaign is that Geneva is very un-Swiss when it comes to recycling. Only a quarter of all household waste is recycled, and the canton wants that figure to rise to 40 per cent by 2002.
"The level of recycling is quite low in Geneva - much lower than in the rest of Switzerland, especially German-speaking Switzerland," Siegenthaler says. "A lot of people recycle, but only occasionally. So they feel like they're doing it, but they are not doing it correctly or enough.
"We want to inform people, and to explain why it's important to recycle, and we want to say it in a fun way, and not, as in German-speaking Switzerland, make people pay for their waste. That's not the kind of policy we want to pursue," she adds.
Rather than encouraging people to go to distant recycling centres, the authorities are increasingly bringing the recycling to the people. One scheme will see every building in Geneva with its own green waste recycling bins. Many already have their own containers for paper and cardboard.
The hedgehog campaign is driven by a desire to protect the environment and to improve the future quality of life of people living in the city. But there are also good economic arguments for recycling.
"The cost of incinerating rubbish is twice as high as recycling it. And when you incinerate it, it's lost forever," Siegenthaler says.
The hedgehogs will be on patrol in the streets of Geneva until October 1. Until then there will be a competition in which people have to find letters and numbers guarded by the hedgehogs and spell out an environmentalist message.
And when the campaign is over, these hedgehogs will not need to be recycled or incinerated. Virtually all of them are expected to find homes - in the companies that paid for them or in schoolyards where they can carry on their missionary work.
by Roy Probert
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