Exporting waste from Switzerland: Waste exports from Switzerland: what should we learn from the figures for 2022?

Located in the heart of Europe, Switzerland plays a pioneering role in many areas, not least in the field of environmental protection and sustainable waste management. However, even a country known for its cleanliness and efficiency faces the challenge of dealing with the ever-increasing amount of waste. One of the solutions to this challenge is the export of waste, a practice that brings with it both opportunities and responsibilities. In 2022, Switzerland exported an impressive 3,066,050 tonnes of waste, to which an additional 570,707 tonnes of hazardous waste were added1 . These figures illustrate not only the scale of waste exports, but also the need to manage this process carefully in order to minimise environmental damage and promote sustainability. The responsible management of waste exports is therefore crucial to ensure that waste disposal does not come at the expense of the environment or less regulated countries.

1 Source: https://www.bafu.admin.ch/bafu/de/home/themen/abfall/zustand/daten.html 

Our latest posts:

In Switzerland, the export of waste is strictly regulated by a comprehensive set of rules aimed at protecting the environment and ensuring the sustainability of waste disposal. The basis for this is the Environmental Protection Act (EPA) together with the Ordinance on the Movement of Waste (VeVA), which sets out the framework for the handling and export of waste. These laws ensure that waste is only exported if it cannot be treated appropriately at home or if specialised processes abroad allow it to be processed in a more environmentally friendly way.

The need to export certain types of waste often arises from the fact that either the technical possibilities for specific treatment are lacking in Switzerland or the domestic capacities for recycling or disposal are insufficient. In addition, exporting to countries with specialised recycling facilities enables more efficient and environmentally friendly recycling of certain materials, such as hazardous waste or specific industrial waste. This approach helps to minimise environmental impact globally by bringing waste to facilities that use the best available techniques for processing it.

Various types of waste are exported in Switzerland, the diversity and quantity of which reflect the complexity of waste management and the need for specialised treatment methods. In 2022, the spectrum of exported waste covered an impressive range, from de-inking sludges from paper recycling to mechanically separated waste from paper and cardboard to more specific categories such as casting moulds and sands or unpolluted excavated and excavation material. The export volumes of these categories exceeded the thousand tonne mark in each case, which underlines the significant role of these waste streams in Switzerland’s export portfolio.

Of particular note are the de-inking sludges from paper recycling, which represent an important fraction as they require specialised recycling processes that may not be available in Switzerland, which justifies their export. The situation is similar for mechanically separated waste whose volume exceeds the available domestic processing capacities or which requires specialised recycling processes that can be carried out more efficiently abroad.

The category of non-ferrous metal waste and plastics illustrates the global demand for secondary raw materials that can be recovered from such materials. The export of these materials not only supports the circular economy on an international level, but also helps to increase resource efficiency and reduce dependence on newly mined raw materials.

An article in the newspaper 24 heures2 from 5 January 2024 highlights that a significant proportion of Swiss waste, in particular more than 80% from the construction sector, crosses the country’s borders. Around 800,000 tonnes of construction waste are exported abroad every year, which underlines the importance of this type of waste in the context of international waste management. 2 https://www.24heures.ch/enquete-sur-les-chantiers-la-suisse-exporte-trop-souvent-ses-dechets-de-construction-534316651361

The countries that serve as the main destinations for these exports vary, with Switzerland having agreements with various European and non-European countries to ensure the environmentally sound treatment of this waste. The choice of destinations depends not only on existing treatment capacities, but also on established environmental standards. This emphasises the need to strengthen international partnerships and focus on sustainable waste management practices that see the export of waste not as a problem but as part of a global solution for resource management and environmental protection.

Hazardous waste is a special category of waste exports due to its potentially harmful properties for the environment and health. In 2022, Switzerland exported a total of 570,707 tonnes of hazardous waste, which underlines the importance and volume of this specific type of waste. The treatment of this waste requires specialised processes and facilities to ensure that no harmful emissions are released into the environment or endanger human health.

The treatment methods for exported hazardous waste include thermal treatment, chemical-physical treatment (CP), biological processes, recycling and reprocessing. Each of these methods addresses the specific risks and challenges posed by hazardous waste and aims to minimise its harmful effects. Thermal treatment and recycling in particular play an important role in reducing the volume and hazardousness of this waste.

However, the export of hazardous waste is also associated with challenges. These include ensuring that the waste is treated to the highest environmental and health standards in the recipient countries. This requires careful selection of treatment facilities and close international co-operation to ensure that waste treatment does not lead to a shift in environmental problems. In addition, the transboundary transport of hazardous waste raises safety and logistics issues that need to be managed effectively. The handling of hazardous waste in the export context thus highlights the need for careful planning, strict regulations and transparent international co-operation.

The analysis of the export of waste from Switzerland in 2022 highlights the complexity and challenges of dealing with waste at national and international level. Despite the impressive amount of over 3 million tonnes of exported waste, excluding hazardous waste, the practice underlines the need to find and further develop sustainable and efficient solutions for waste management. As a Swiss engineering company, GAIA Conseils wants to play a central role in this. By assisting companies in designing innovative treatment methods3 in Switzerland and providing administrative support with export and import formalities4 , GAIA Conseils makes a significant contribution to optimising waste management.

3 GAIA projects

4 Expertise GAIA 

It is crucial to expand domestic recycling and waste treatment capacities. This would not only reduce the environmental impact, but also reduce dependence on international disposals. The emphasis must be on developing and implementing circular economy models that increase resource efficiency and minimise the generation of waste. GAIA Conseils’ commitment and expertise can act as a catalyst for innovative solutions and guide the way to a more sustainable future in waste management.

What do you think of this article?

Do you have any further questions?
What do you want to read next time?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *