Ignorance about recycling leaves dustbins full

Switzerland has an impressive record in waste recycling, but a new survey suggests that many people are still unsure about how to properly dispose of electrical appliances.

This content was published on July 11, 2000 - 14:08

The survey, by the Swiss Agency for the Environment, found that more than 40 per cent of respondents were unsure about what to do with unwanted electrical appliances. Many had no idea that these items could be recycled at all. Young people and foreigners were particularly ill informed.

The survey questioned 800 people between the ages of 15 and 74 from French- and German-speaking regions.

More than 60 per cent they had never returned an appliance to the point of sale for disposal, even though stores selling these items are obliged to take them back for recycling.

Hans-Peter Fahrni, the head of the waste management division of the agency, says that a large number of small household appliances such as electric shavers, electric toothbrushes, small radios, CD players are still winding up in household garbage bags.

The result is that recyclable materials such as copper, iron, aluminium, precious metals and glass are lost, and that garbage dumps are being contaminated by harmful substances.

The picture is not entirely gloomy, though. Of the estimated 150-thousand tonnes of electrical appliances bought in Switzerland each year, around 120-thousand tonnes are legally disposed of by 200 recognised recycling firms.

Fahrni says the two-year-old ordinance obliging retailers to take back old and unwanted appliances has created a dense network of return points. However, there is still confusion about costs.

Fahrni says that computers present little problem since disposal costs are included in the purchase price. "But in the field of consumer electronics, we don't have the same solution. I think some consumers are confused about the two different ways of paying."

by Paul Sufrin

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