During our travels in Switzerland, I enjoyed observing how deeply ingrained environmental stewardship is in Swiss culture. I really enjoyed discussing the topic with Daniela from Villa Maderni. She told me that children in Switzerland learn about environmental stewardship in school as early as kindergarten. She said they learn that in a region of mountains, everyone must live together in the valleys. With everyone forced to live so close together and share the same resources, it is important to understand how one’s actions and use or misuse of resources can impact the whole community.
Here’s a list of a few things I witnessed and would love to see incorporated more into American culture:
1. Use of low flow plumbing fixtures
2. Readily available (and strongly encouraged) recycling
3. In some places, compostable waste was separated for disposal
4. Public trash compactors
5. Energy conservation (i.e. no lights when you leave the hotel room, timed or motion-activated lights)
6. Low impact landscaping (i.e. green roofs everywhere and some of the tunnels had green roofs with cows grazing on them!)
7. Extensive use of public transit
8. Extensive walking and bicycling (especially readily available rent-able bikes, prevalence of bike lanes and storage facilities)
9. Permeable pavement (see below for an example)
10. Extensive home gardening (sustainable food production)
I also did some travel related to my dissertation research in the week prior to GPP where I learned a bit about some of Switzerland’s laws regarding disposal of wastewater and related wastes which also reflect a sense of environmental stewardship:
11. Biosolids (the treated, concentrated solids which result from wastewater treatment) are not permitted to be land applied in Switzerland because of the possibility of transferring heavy metals to the soil. Instead, biosolids are incinerated (though incineration certainly has environmental impacts as well). In the U.S., biosolids are extensively applied to agricultural lands as fertilizer, disposed of in landfills, and even incinerated.
12. Wastewater treatment is used to generate electricity (or at least recover a portion of the energy required for treatment). At one treatment plant I visited, I witnessed turbines to collect energy from water as it is discharged. Incineration of biosolids (mentioned above) is also used to generate electricity. These practices are used to some extent in the U.S. as well.
13. In an attempt to limit the amount of endocrine-disrupting compounds discharged to Swiss surface waters, Switzerland has strict laws to regulate antibiotic use in agriculture. Use of antibiotics as growth promoters (a practice widely used in the US) is prohibited in Switzerland.
14. As we learned during a visit to SUPSI, Switzerland has established a goal to reduce the amount of micropollutants (such as pharmaceuticals and personal care products) discharged in treated wastewater by 2020. As such, the Swiss government is investing in technologies to make this goal attainable.