The environmental issues in Switzerland
Switzerland is a small mountainous country, with a relatively high population density, lots of tourists traveling across the country, and a key role in mass transit between northern and southern Europe. This a combination that could easily result in massive environmental issues.
The Swiss are proud of the beauty of their country. There is a lot of untouched nature and in general people are careful with it and value protecting the environment. People do have a vote in big decisions such as the question how to manage the growing amount of transit traffic. They tend to choose the solutions that combine economic growth with protection of the Alps, and to favor rail traffic over road traffic.
Another major issue is global warming. Switzerland is working on decreasing its CO2 footprint, for example by making the right choices for transportation and by recycling waste. But the country is also fighting the problems that climate change already caused, and is preparing for future climate change.
One way to reduce energy consumption and decrease CO2 emissions is to recycle materials. In order to do so, Switzerland has an extensive system of separating waste. The way this is done differs per town. Chemicals, batteries, paper, carton, glass, plastic, cans, textile, oil, bread, aluminum coffee pods and cooking fat can all be collected separately. In many cases, containers to hand in these materials are available at a central point like the railway station, shopping center or post office. Many supermarkets also collect plastic waste and some other materials. Such a location is often called an 'Abfall-Sammelstelle' or 'Wertstoff-Sammelstelle' in German.
The remaining materials should be put in special bags for the local waste processing firm to collect it. An additional tax ('Sackgebühr') on these bags pays for the collecting and waste processing, and therefore they're pretty expensive. If you just need a couple of bags while staying in a vacation rental, your renter will generally be able to provide some. These bags can often not be found in the shopping section of the supermarket, but only at the checkout or the supermarket kiosk. It is common practice to stuff in as much waste as possible and then put it in a nearby container or place it on the roadside on the designated day. If you stay in a hotel, you're not responsible for these bags and you can just use what the hotel provides you with. But you can still separately dispose of the basic stuff like plastic bottles.
Recycling pays off
Most tourists are not used to this level of recycling. However, you will get used to it quickly and the advantages are clear: Switzerland is a very clean country. You will not find a lot of street litter along your way. Apart from waste separation, there's more you can do as a tourist to keep the Alps clean and stop global warming.