LAUSANNE / GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – Lausanne is doing it, Morges is doing it, and so are most but not all villages in canton Vaud: Black garbage bags are being replaced this week by white bags on which a rubbish collection tax is levied. The brouhaha and political debate around the bags when the possibility of using them first arose in the region has mostly died down, but some confusion remains this week about their introduction.
Taxed rubbish bags have been a part of daily life in much of German-speaking Switzerland for years, starting in St Gallen in 1975. The Swiss federal government introduced mandatory polluter pays regulations in the early 1990s, but what exactly was permitted under the new rules was unclear. A number of communes argued that the law left open the alternative of a lump sum tax. In many areas this has been tied to the water use tax.
In 2012 the town of Romanel-sur-Morges in Vaud lost a federal court case over its alternative tax approach. It argued that its own regulations were designed to encourage households and businesses to reduce their waste.
A citizen in Romanel, with the backing of his Green political party, challenged that town’s lump sum tax and in August 2011 the high court in Lausanne agreed with him. It ruled that 30 percent is the maximum that a general rubbish tax can contribute, and that spreading the tax evenly throughout the community did not meet the polluter pays more principle.
Vaud moves to white and taxed rubbish after 6 years of experimenting
The result: this week 200 communes in canton Vaud are falling in line in with federal regulations that call for all Swiss communes to have a polluter-pays tax system in place by the end of 2012.
Nyon was one of the first communities along Lake Geneva to adopt taxed garbage bags, in 2009, when it also stepped up its relatively weak recycling programme.
Geneva reflecting on it
Geneva is the laggard, with the debate set aside at the end of the 20th century in favour of a system to encourage citizens to better sort their waste and recycle more. The debate has been revived by the federal deadline and Genevans will have to decide in coming months.
Calculating the difference in cost for the average citizen is difficult, with estimates of up to double the lump sum tax currently paid. A black garbage bag generally has cost 12 centimes at the supermarket and the new bags are anywhere from CHF1.50 to 4 throughout the country. In Vaud they range per bag from CHF1.00 to 6.00 (17l and 110l).
The tax is collected by the federal government, which redistributes it to the communes to cover their collection and elimination costs.
Vaud has published a list and interactive map with details for each commune, since the system used is up to each commune.