What difference can a can make?

Wait! Recycling those cans would save enough energy to power a TV for 16 hours. © Keystone / Laurent Darbellay

For World Environment Day, we’ve crunched a few numbers showing how a small country like Switzerland can have a big impact when it comes to things like cans and cigarette butts.

This content was published on June 5, 2019 minutes
Susan Misicka and Kai Reusser

When people are in a hurry, sometimes the trip to the recycling bin or the ash tray seems too far away. Ditto when people are looking for a mini-getaway, opting to fly to places that are accessible by train or bus.

So what would happen if everyone in Switzerland, where the population is 8.5 million, took the following steps to conserve energy and resources?

Kai Reusser /

​​​​​​​Beverage cans

The energy saved by recycling one beverage can would be enough to power a TV for four hours. If everyone recycled a beverage can today, 17 million TVs would have enough power to watch a two-hour movie, according to international interest group Every Can CountsExternal link.

Plastic bottles

If everyone in Switzerland recycled a PET plastic drink bottle today, it would save enough energy to run 907,000 laptops for 50 hours each. The calculation comes from a Carbotech study commissioned by PET-RecyclingExternal link. Currently, people in Switzerland recycle 83% of PET bottles, leaving room for improvement.

BYOB (bring your own beverage)

If everyone avoided buying a drink in a 500ml plastic bottle today, it would save over 1.06 million litres of oil required for the production of the single-use bottles. That’s the equivalent of 6,682 barrels of crude oil, saved in just one day. That’s based on a calculation from Pacific InstituteExternal link, which reckons that plastic bottle requires a quarter of its volume in oil to make.


Hand over heart, how many smokers have tossed a butt on the ground when running for the (eco-friendly!) tram or train? But if all the smokers in Switzerland – 27.1% of the population over 15 – did that today, even just once, there would be over 1.95 million cigarettes on the loose in the environment, containing enough toxins to pollute 14.6 million litres of water within an hour, say coastal clean-up groups in IrelandExternal link and CaliforniaExternal link.


If everybody avoided taking a short-haul flight – say a round-trip from Zurich to Rome, a distance of about 1,400km – the overall CO2 saved would be over three million tonnes, according to Swiss emissions compensation foundation myclimateExternal link.

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