Though I have noticed many sustainable practices in Zürich and Basel, this does not make Switzerland some beautiful exception to the reality that is the developed world. Most of the litter I see is concentrated in areas of construction (above). I am not sure what they do with the discarded construction materials, but there are also things like plastic bags that gather here (in much lower quantities relative to what I have seen in the states). There is hardly ever liter on the streets. Maybe some beer cans on Sunday morning from the night before, but they disappear promptly. This is probably because I often see street sweepers (people and machines). I have even seen at least 7 people walking in the city without shoes or socks!

The amount of construction around the cities I have been to is almost as common as the amount of graffiti covering the buildings (more construction and way more graffiti than I see in Chicago or Indianapolis). However, I want to emphasize that I feel really safe here, and I have been told by many that brutal crime is almost nonexistent. The graffiti (I am told by two other students at ETH) is usually an expression of political disapproval or even contempt through disobedience. It can also be some really cool art. This isn’t too far off from what we see in the states, but I know that tags can be associated with other brutal crimes. From what I was told, that is not usually the case here.

The most surprising thing to me is that I have seen more public recycling containers around in Chicago (maybe Indianapolis) than here. There are plenty of places to recycle- by my flat, in ETH buildings, and in large Coops (grocery stores)- but when I am actually in the city I am pressed to find one. I guess I could always just stop in a Coop. I hope that is what other people do because take out (take away) and to-go coffee is really popular here too. I have yet to see a reusable mug that is European coffee sized (the cup below is filled halfway). I could probably fit 5 coffees purchased here in my American to-go cup; however, I would probably spend 20 chf and overdose on caffeine if I tried that.


Another large waste I have noticed is in the Coops. If you want to buy veggies, you have to do it by weighing it yourself (below). Then, it prints a sticker with the price. You need at least 1 sticker for each vegetable type and most people use plastic bags for each too. They have let me get away with weighing four tomatoes- for instance- all straight on the scale then just sticking the sticker on one of them when I check out to reduce my plastic bag usage. I have not been able to find where/if these bags are recycled, but the stickers surely cannot be.


However, despite this waste, I cannot forget how many people here that I see carrying reusable shopping bags or how many people here that I know must save their parcels of paper to be recycled, make stacks of a particular height, tie them in a particular way, and put them out on a particular day once a week. This is a site to see (below), and I find it hard to imagine it ever happening in the states.





This weekend a lab mate from Basel invited me to swim with her down the Rhine. Along the way, I noticed a few interesting and sustainable practices.

1) Transportation across the Rhine

There are multiple points along the Rhine in Basel where the public can pay ~1.50 chf to cross the river on a ferry. However, these ferries do not use motors to cross the river, but instead they use the power of the strong current. The ferries are connected with one wire to another perpendicular wire that spans the width of the river (above). The rudder angles the boat so that the ferry can cross using the power of the water and the tension of the wire.


2) Dining by the river

As students, we did not want to pay for the fancy options with outdoor seating near the Rhine. Instead, we bought our food out of a cart. I definitely thought that we were going to get a bunch of take out packaging we would have to throw away, simply because we were buying it out of a cart; however, they gave us actual plates (above) that we could take to sit with on the concrete beside the Rhine. This may be an effort to avoid trash in the river, but it definitely wastes less too. You have to pay 6 chf for each plate and when you return the plate they give you back your money. This way you can take it where you find a spot, but they can ensure you don’t just break it or leave it by the river.


3) General transportation to/from/around Basel

I was EASILY able to get everywhere I needed to go via train or bus. The train station even has an app that you can order your tickets from in English (the machines are in German). You end up with a bar code on your phone that a conductor can scan. This also saves paper. I went without looking at train/bus times and did not end up waiting more than 30 minutes. There were beautiful views on the ride over and back too!


This week I was able to get to know the lab in which I will be working. I have learned a lot about graduate education and Switzerland and a little about higher education and college/university ‘sports’ in Europe in general. Please, just note this is from ‘word of mouth’ and personal experience. Take what you will from it.

The first thing I noticed about the 3 labs I have seen here is that they have MANY instruments that are well taken care of (Such as the HPLC above. I also had a picture of the LC-MS, but it doesn’t look that great in the filter I have been using :P). The group should be congratulated for their system of training newcomers. They have individual grad students responsible for training one or two instruments and step by step instructions typed up for the instruments that are available on their wiki page.  I have been in a lab where there is a day of learning all instruments you will use briefly and then you are kind of on your own with a manual that often is written for three or more different versions of the instrument.This can result in inefficiency and ample mistakes. However, there are about 14 people in this lab, and it makes this sort of training system possible. The diverse instruments available here are the result of federal funding. ETHZ is one of two federal universities here in Switzerland. There are many other nearby universities though. In fact, the University of Zürich (probably canton funded?) has class requirements for certain majors that are through ETHZ and vice versa.

I was told by a lab mate that the way Switzerland’s education system works is you end up in tracks in middle school or high school that determine whether you will end up in an apprenticeship/trade, an ‘applied’ college, or a university. The state then covers most of the cost and there is about a 1400 chf charge per semester (for universities) that a student might have to pay depending on the money parents make. The general outlook here is that everyone (who meets the standards for that track I guess) should be able to afford a higher education. It is possible to switch out of tracks too. From what I understand, if someone ended up in a trade track and wanted to go to a university they are able to, but they have to work for it. I think this might mean a placement test. I am not sure.

I am sure, however,  that it is possible to take classes here in both Swiss German and High German speaking only English and survive. That’s right. I did it. The caveat is that they were through ASVZ, a company that provides students (and people who pay for them too) in Switzerland opportunities to exercise. There are no competitive college funded sport teams here, as most people know. (Believe me, people care about professional sports though. The once quiet and refined streets of Zürich have exploded into World Cup craziness recently. It’s pretty entertaining!) When you get your student ID at any of the universities in the canton of Zürich (or most at least) you can go to any of ASVZ’s classes or ~8 diverse facilities dispersed within 30 minute tram/bus rides of ETHZ. Much like Purdue with the CoRec, all students must pay the fee for ASVZ. However, ASVZ has free classes in almost anything you can imagine. I wish I could understand them though. Maybe I will pick it up! I have already started learning numbers… Especially eins.


I finally have the transit system here down (for my purposes anyway). You can get almost anywhere you want to go in Switzerland without a car. Your options are train, ferry, bus, and tram (above). Googlemaps- I have discovered- knows all of these options! I took the tram the wrong way a few times, but they literally come every five minutes so you just have to get off at the next station and get on going the opposite direction. What has really saved me Is that the trams have tv screens on every car with the current stop, the next three stops, and the end of the line. It is really efficient!


It does cost to ride, and it is based mostly on the honors system. You buy a ticket (or a monthly zone pass in my case) and then just get on the train/ferry/bus/tram. You have to be sure you have it with you though because apparently there are roaming ticket collectors who could ask to see it. If you don’t have it, I think it’s like 100 chf. I have never encountered one. There are still many cars on the road though, so it might be for situations where you have to carry your big screen TV home on the train. This looks pretty challenging.


As for the disposal system here: First of all, I haven’t figured it out completely yet. From what I understand though-for Zürich the canton (to Switzerland like a state is to the US)- you must buy special trash bags (Züri-bags) That are small and cost 2 Chf per bag (something like $2.20).


This is a really high price compared to the gigantic black ones we buy in the US for cents each. Unlike in the US, this is how they charge people for the pick up and encourage recycling (if you can recycle it you don’t have to pay for the Züri-bag space to throw it away). However, recycling is so complicated! There is a certain schedule you must follow that is different for each CITY. Unfortunately, all the city websites are in German. You have to stack up your paper no more than 6 inches thick, tie it with a special string (mentioned in the last post), and stick it on your steps on the correct day of the week. Compost goes in the green street bins on the two days per week it is collected.  I have no idea what to do with cardboard. There are PET and aluminum disposal canisters all over the place (which is convenient). I have no idea what to do with plastics other than PET. I know that if any of the rules are not followed there are hefty fines. I think it will be pretty cool once I figure out this schedule, but right now I throw my compost away when no one is looking and collect my other recycling. I am also watching what other people do as always!

Source that helped me figure out this much:

P.S.  Just found this right after this post in the front of a large Coop (grocery store):




(This post is from June 2, 2014 and was posted late due to lack of internet access)

I spent my first day in Switzerland figuring out that though most people know English here (as I was told by many), not EVERYONE knows English. The situations in which people do not know English are the important ones. I went to two grocery stores this morning: one that belonged to a Greek family and one Coop (a chain of grocery stores in Switzerland). I knew on my way there that I should not buy the amount I normally would buy in the US. I have always heard that refrigerators in Europe are much smaller. It turns out that the fridge in my flat is about a fourth of the size of one you would see in a US home. The first store went okay. It looked like a little specialty store, so I worried I might not be able to use my credit card. In my mangled attempt at German that I learned on the plane, I tried to ask the cashier if she spoke English. She did not so I showed her the card and she nodded. All went well.

When I went to Coop (pronounced like ‘cope’), however, terrible things ensued. I realized that most people purchased one or two things. I tried to lessen the amount that I put in my basket because of this, but it still ended up being full. This is because I technically got here yesterday (a Sunday) and EVERYTHING is closed on Sundays. I had to eat a whole bag of trailmix and a protein bar for lunch and dinner because I just happened to have those with me on the plane. This meant that I needed to at least buy things for breakfast and lunch. Plus, I needed things like dishwashing soap. Also,  I noticed when I was walking around yesterday that people bundle up their paper recycling using a special string that was there, so I bought it. The line to check out moved so fast. I tried to watch what everyone else was doing and copy.

First, many of them had bananas in bags and mine were not. When I went to check out the cashier noticed my bananas held them up and said something to me inn German. When she noticed my alarm she shrugged said something else and set them aside. I smiled (not being able to say anything else). At this point I realized that you have to weigh the bananas and fruit somewhere and put a price sticker on them (based on the bananas the boy next to me was about to buy). Right after that another woman in the store came up to the cashier and started arguing about something written on this piece of paper. When they were finished, the cashier went back to ringing things up mechanically and obviously mad. The problem was she had not finished my order and was ringing up the next boy’s stuff. I realized this and started to say something in English. She asked me if I speak Italian, German, or French. I know very little French and was trying to think of a barbarian way to say what was happening. Luckily the boy next to me knew English and explained to her what I was saying. She didn’t know how to cancel orders so she sat there and tried to figure it out. The English speaker had halted the well-oiled checkout machine that had been previously moving quickly and efficiently. I felt people getting impatient, as that was the only lane open to checkout. Finally, she figured it out, and I tried to use my card. Of course I did something wrong and the boy helped me again. I thanked them (at least I can say that in German) and left as quickly as possible.