Sunday, January 12, 2014

Keeping House in Uster

There are a million lifestyle changes that come with an international move. We tried to anticipate and did our best to research and prepare before the move. Despite our best intentions, more often than not, we find ourselves in the middle of an unanticipated new challenge and we wing it. Or we text our (very few) Swiss friends begging for answers. 

Here are two of the housekeeping challenges that we've mastered here in Switzerland.

As I've mentioned before, it is very common for apartment buildings to have a shared washer and dryer. Residents are assigned a washing day, which is the only day they can use the machines. Our temporary flat has access to two washers (no dryers) shared among eight flats. Instead of an assigned day, there is a sign-up sheet that allows us to pick our own day. We were given a magnetic wand with our flat keys and told to visit one of our neighbors to load money on the wand for the washer.

I signed up for my first wash day and visited our neighbor to load money on the wand. She didn't speak a word of English, so she was unable to communicate with me what to do with these:

Or this:

Scary buttons everywhere! Luckily one of our favorite neighbors, a retiree from Spain who also doesn't speak a word of English, used enough dramatic hand gestures to communicate the process. Tapping the magnetic circle wand once on one of the Apollon box's metal circles will gives me my money balance. Tapping twice activates one of the machines. I learned the hard way that it activates the machine for a few hours at a time. At first, I thought it would need activate before each load. Five CHF down the drain. Then, I thought it was activated for an entire day and almost panicked when the machine turned itself off mid-cycle. I was sure I had broken it. I'm still not sure how much time you get for five CHF, but it's around 3-4 hours. 

As I mentioned, there's no dryer (or tumbler, as they call them). But, there is a communal drying room. Not pictured: our underwear, which were paraded around a semi-public space. Fantastic....

There are lots of rules for using shared washers. They vary by building and ours include thoroughly wiping down the inside and outside of the washer with a wet rag, cleaning out the filter and sweeping the laundry room after use. Also, no laundry can be done between 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. or on Sundays.

Trash and Recycling
Disposing of waste is a very specific and organized process in Switzerland. Recycling isn't mandatory (as it can be in other European countries), but there are benefits to doing it well. All trash must be thrown out in specific bags. These bags are sold at grocery stores and are different in each region. In Uster our bags are gray with red writing

A 35 liter bag costs approx. 1.60 CHF, can be purchased at the grocery and are the only bags that will be collected by the city. Other size bags can be purchased, but 35 liters is standard (and is very small). People cram as much as possible into these bags and, since you pay per bag, the more you throw away, the more it costs over time. Which brings me to recycling....

Recycling is collected all over the city, at grocery and convenience stores and on the street. These recycling containers are  less than a block from my house (there are at least three more sets within a five minute walk).

The containers collect glass, aluminum,  PET (plastic) electronics and textiles. The glass is sorted by color: brown, white and green. Each house brings their recyclables here to deposit. Paper and cardboard recycling are bundled up and collected curbside once a month on assigned days. Milk containers can be brought back to the grocery store where you purchased it.

There are also receptacles for compost and yard scraps. They are very liberal in what they will accept in compost receptacles... things we could never compost in our back yard in the States.

It's an interesting system. In America, we pay for trash and recycling pick up through taxes. The tax rate doesn't change based on how much or little your household puts out at the curb, so there's little to motivate those who aren't interested in recycling for the environment's sake. In Switzerland, we still pay for our trash pick up, but buying the bags creates greater awareness of how much trash we throw away. And if free and easy recycling wasn't motivation enough, there's the added benefit of monetary savings. More recycling = less 1.60 CHF trash bags to buy. Sounds good to me.

But of course, there's no recycling on Sundays. If you bring your bag full of Saturday night's beer bottles to recycle, you risk getting a lecture from a neighbor or worse, a ticket from a police office!


  1. Dare I ask...what do you do with animal waste?!

    1. I actually have a photo that I can't figure out how to post in comments.... There are trash cans with doggy poo bags all over the town. They go in the trash and we usually use the public trashcans rather than out kitchen can, for obvious reasons ;)

    2. Good to know! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Love reading about all the new things you're encountering! I remember having a surprisingly tough time figuring out how to use the washing machine in our flat in London - and that's with no language barrier, LOL.

    We have to buy $2 stickers every time we want our trash to be picked up. Sometimes it feels a little inconvenient (like the mornings I remember I forgot to put the sticker on, after they're already down the street), but mostly it's been helpful in lowering the amount of trash we generate.

  3. I feel sympathy for your "trials", while being thoroughly entertained by them.
    And you've made me more aware of how spoiled we are here in the U.S...happily so ;)