Waste compacter keeps town clean

Zermatt, Switzerland is one of the most popular mountain resorts in the world, but this also results in a mountain of garbage. As Salome Kern reports from Zermatt, Schwendimann AG has found a sustainable way to dispose of the garbage. Let the export begin.


It is still quiet in Zermatt. A thin layer of snow blankets the meadows, while electric vehicles hum through the largely car-free resort. When vacation season starts in mid-December tourists flock to the village. The number of people living in Zermatt jumps from the usual 6,000 residents up to 40,000 in the height of winter. Guests are attracted to the Matterhorn. But now there is a new attraction in town. Nestled between the Cervo Hotel and Amaryllis vacation apartments stands a striking turquoise box. A garbage container to be sure, but no ordinary one: It is part of Zermatt’s new waste disposal system.

Compacted waste saves space

It was a long road for Schwendimann AG. In July 2010 Zermatt put out for tender a new contract waste disposal in the municipality. But with strings attached: The streets are narrow, diesel vehicles don’t quite fit the village character, and 8,000 tonnes of waste must be managed. CEO Matthias Schwendimann came up with the idea of a waste compactor with a side loader. The electric container compacts a 35-litre rubbish bag and the side loader transports the container. This results in energy savings of 80 per cent. The Swiss Federal Office of Energy awarded the Alpenluft (Alpine air) system with the prestigious Watt d’Or prize.

New company makes good Alpine air

After Schwendimann AG was awarded the contract in December 2010, CEO Matthias Schwendimann split the project off from the company to form a new company, System-Alpenluft AG.

In the meantime, 32 of the 40 collection points in Zermatt have already been completed. System-Alpenluft has already begun disposing of Zermatt’s waste, but it still does so in combination with a conventional waste disposal method. By spring the final touches will be made and it will only use the Alpenluft method.

Residents for their part are still not entirely used to this new technology. The system was designed in a manner that it would only compact waste after every third rubbish bag. Except that people waited for something to happen when they tossed their rubbish bag into the container. When they did not hear anything happen, they would press the emergency button, which ended up jamming the entire machine. The result: Rubbish bags gathered in front of the container instead of inside of it. Ever since the system has been reprogrammed to compact the waste after each rubbish bag, the technology now functions perfectly.

Let the export begin

Zermatt is just the beginning for Schwendimann. Switzerland already has six more containers along the Jungfrau Railway: three on the Kleine Scheidegg and three on the Jungfraujoch. And there is a good chance the system will come to Melbourne, Australia. The city wants its rubbish bins emptied only at night and therefore requires a silent system – which Alpenluft happens to be. Bergen, Norway is also considering the system. “We have developed the ultimate niche product and can implement it wherever the need arises”, says Schwendimann.

A company fit for the future

Matthias Schwendimann has business in his blood. He is the fourth generation to run Schwendimann AG, a company that his great-grandfather started back in 1935. Nearly 80 employees or ‘co-thinkers’ – as Schwendimann likes to call them – now work for the company. 12 operate the Alpenluft system out of Münchenbuchsee, where Schwendimann AG is headquartered. Every Monday and Thursday the workday starts off with an obligatory morning workout: The entire company gets together and exercises for around eight minutes. And for good reason, too: Employees are only half as likely to fall sick.

The story of this family company goes on. After apprenticing as a car mechanic, the son worked temporarily in the company. Today he belongs firmly to it. And he is already speaking with his best friend and colleagues about becoming the successor.


Picture credit: Alpenluft

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