Use the Lexology Navigator tool to compare the answers in this article with those from other jurisdictions.    

Waste and hazardous substances

Definition

How is ‘waste’ defined in your jurisdiction?

Waste is mainly governed by the Federal Act on the Protection of the Environment the Federal Ordinance on the Avoidance and Disposal of Waste, the Federal Ordinance on the Movement of Waste, the Federal Ordinance on Lists Concerning the Movement of Waste, the Federal Technical Ordinance on Waste and the Federal Ordinance on the Return, the Tacking Back and the Disposal of Electrical and Electronic Devices.

The Federal Act on the Protection of the Environment defines ‘waste’ as any moveable material disposed of by its holder or the disposal of which is required in the public interest. Pursuant to the Federal Act on the Protection of the Environment, the disposal of waste includes its recovery or deposit in a landfill as well as the preliminary stages of collection, transport, storage and treatment. Any physical, chemical or biological modification of the waste is considered to be a treatment.

The Federal Act on the Protection of the Environment distinguishes between municipal waste, special waste and other waste. ‘Municipal waste’ is defined as waste originating from households and waste of comparable composition from enterprises not exceeding a certain size. ‘Special waste’ is defined as waste whose environmentally compatible disposal requires special measures. Waste that is neither special waste nor municipal waste is defined as ‘other waste’. The distinction is relevant for the obligations regarding the disposal of waste.

Waste handling

What rules and procedures govern the handling of waste, with particular respect to:

(a) Storage?

The Federal Act on the Protection of the Environment defines the handling of waste as any activity in connection with waste – in particular, its manufacture, import, export, circulation, use, storage, transport or disposal.

Pursuant to the Ordinance on the Avoidance and Disposal of Waste, waste may be stored for up to five years. The competent authority may grant one extension not exceeding another five years.

The Ordinance on the Avoidance and Disposal of Waste defines the required facilities for the storage of different types of waste. Certain types of waste may not be stored at all – for example, waste that can rot.

(b) Transport?

The Federal Act on the Protection of the Environment and the Ordinance on the Movement of Waste govern the domestic movement of special waste and other waste subject to control as well as the cross-border movement of any type of waste. Within Switzerland, the movement of other types than special waste and waste subject to control is not governed by special rules.

As to the handling of special waste, such waste:

  • must be marked as such for transfer within Switzerland as well as for import, export and transit;
  • may be handed over in Switzerland only to companies with authorisation from the canton;
  • may be exported only with authorisation from the federal authority; and
  • may be accepted or imported only by companies with authorisation from the canton.

These authorisations are granted if environmentally compatible disposal is guaranteed.

(c) Disposal?

Pursuant to the Federal Act on the Protection of the Environment, the production of waste should be avoided wherever possible, waste must be recovered wherever possible and waste must be disposed of in an environmentally compatible way and, insofar as this is possible and reasonable, within Switzerland.

The Technical Ordinance on Waste governs the reduction and treatment of waste as well as the building and operation of waste plants. It distinguishes between different types of disposal site for certain types of waste. Setting up and operating a waste disposal site requires a permit from the cantonal authority.

As to municipal waste, the disposal obligation lies with the cantons but can be transferred to the communities. For other types of waste, the waste holder must dispose its waste to the extent that it cannot be recovered.

Regardless of the type of waste, the costs for waste disposal are borne by the holder of the concerned waste. If the holder cannot be identified or is insolvent, the canton must cover the costs of disposal.

(d) Recycling/reuse?

As a core principle of the Federal Act on the Protection of the Environment, waste must be recovered wherever possible. Detailed legislation has been passed to implement this principle – for example, by prohibiting the use of certain materials for packaging in order to facilitate the recycling of packaging materials and by regulating the separate collection of certain types of waste such as paper, cardboard, glass, oil and metals.

Liability

What is the extent of a waste producer’s liability after transferral of waste (eg, to a waste disposal agent)?

After transferral of waste, the initial producer and transferor of waste generally is no longer liable for such waste and the related costs, provided that:

  • before such transfer, the producer complied with the applicable regulatory requirements such as correctly marking the waste and handing it over only to an authorised company;
  • any non-compliance or wrongdoing of the transferee does not fall within the responsibility of the transferor; and
  • the transferor complied with the contractual arrangements it might have had with the transferee of the waste.

Waste recovery

Are waste producers bound by any waste recovery obligations?

Given that the production of waste should be avoided wherever possible and that waste must be recovered wherever possible, waste producers must recover waste, even where direct recycling of the concerned materials is not possible. Such waste may still be suitable for recovery in another way.

Waste disposal agents

How are the business activities of waste disposal agents/landfill operators regulated?

Both the building and operation of waste plants for the treatment of waste, as well as the building and operation of landfills for the final deposit of waste, are subject to authorisation from the canton. Such authorisations may be granted only if the agent or landfill operator establishes that the facility is required and the statutory requirements on its location, size, technical equipment and operation are fulfilled. The waste plants, disposal sites and their operators are monitored by cantonal authorities.

Hazardous substances

What special rules, regulations and safeguards apply to the handling and disposal of hazardous materials?

The handling and disposal of hazardous materials is mainly governed by the Federal Act on the Protection of the Environment the Federal Act on Protection against Dangerous Substances and Preparations, the Federal Ordinance on Protection against Dangerous Substances and Preparations and the Federal Ordinance on the Reduction of Risks relating to the Use of Certain Particularly Dangerous Substances, Preparations and Articles.

Generally, a distributor of hazardous substances must assess whether the concerned substances may harm human health or the environment. If so, the substance must be marked and packed accordingly before distribution. Certain hazardous chemical substances must be listed in the Swiss product register of chemicals.

Special rules govern the sale of hazardous chemicals. Certain hazardous chemicals may not be sold to private users. Others may be sold to private users, but only if the buyers have been informed about the dangers of the concerned substance.

As to the disposal of hazardous substances, anyone that supplies such substances or preparations must accept them when returned by non-commercial users for appropriate disposal. Small quantities may be returnable free of charge.

Click here to view the full article.