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8 April 2024 The new EPA: A commitment to circular economy

The new Environmental Protection Act strengthens the circular economy with the conservation of resources, a new waste treatment hierarchy and a ban on littering.

New Principle of resource conservation and circular economy

On March 15, 2024, the National Council and the Council of States adopted an amendment to the Environmental Protection Act (EPA, SR 814.01). The amendment demonstrates Switzerland's commitment to a circular economy. It was triggered by a number of political initiatives, in particular the parliamentary initiative 20.433 "Strengthening the Swiss circular economy".

The planned amendment to the EPA will foster the principle to conserve resources and strengthen the circular economy. To this end, the environmental impact of products and buildings is to be reduced (nArt. 10h EPA), material cycles shall be closed and resource efficiency shall be improved. A new chapter of the EPA is dedicated to this principle, which emphasizes its importance for the Parliament.

Further amendments of the EPA are made in particular in the chapter on waste legislation. The Federal Council is given the authority to regulate various issues in detail and the Confederation and Cantons are to regularly review their legislation for compatibility with the new principles (nArt. 10h para. 3 EPA). In addition, the Federal Council must regularly report to the Parliament on the consumption of natural resources and the development of resource efficiency (nArt. 10h para. 2 EPA). The measurability of developments in particular is likely to pose a challenge.

This article presents the most important legal amendments that go hand in hand with the commitment to resource conservation and a circular economy.

New waste recovery hierarchy

In a resource-conserving economy, waste should be avoided wherever possible and resources should be reused. The previous legislation on waste recovery did not stipulate a waste recovery hierarchy. A recycling requirement currently only arises from certain special ordinances such as the Ordinances regarding Avoidance and the Disposal of Waste (ADWO, Art. 13 ff.), on the Return, Taking Back and Disposal of Electrical and Electronic Equipment (VREG, Art. 10) or on Beverage Containers (BCO, Art. 2 para. 3). nArt. 30d EPA now clearly states that waste must primarily be reused or recycled. Recycling has priority for five explicitly listed material categories in particular: metals, excavated and excavation material, phosphorus, compostable or fermentable waste and nitrogen. Only if reuse or recycling is not technically possible or economically viable, waste-to-energy can be considered an option.

Reuse is treated as an equivalent to recycling. The direct reuse of a product, its repair or resale legally qualify as such. The reuse of a product constitutes a direct prevention of waste (Art. 30 para. 1 EPA). If the products and materials are publicly collected or taken back and subsequently reused, this is legally considered waste-to-energy (nArt. 30d para. 1 EPA), which shall also be financially compensated (nArt. 32abis and 32ater EPA). This is intended to create an economic incentive to keep resources in the economic cycle instead of disposing them.

The amended EPA does not oblige the Federal Council to make single-use products whose benefits do not justify their environmental impact subject to a cost obligation or to ban them altogether. The relevant optional provision in Art. 30a USG therefore remains unchanged.

Municipal waste monopoly will be relaxed

Based on Art. 31b para. 1 EPA municipal waste is subject to a cantonal monopoly. As a result, only the local authority (usually the canton, municipality or special-purpose association, depending on the respective cantonal regulation) is permitted to dispose of municipal waste, including its collection, transportation, interim storage and treatment (see Art. 7 para. 6bis EPA). This meant so far, that private providers could only collect and dispose of municipal waste, particularly household waste (Art. 3 lit. a ADWO, municipal waste), if they were licenced by the responsible local authority.

The EPA now provides for a relaxation of this municipal waste monopoly. Based on nArt. 31b para. 4 EPA, the Federal Council may designate municipal waste categories that may be collected voluntarily by private providers without a license. This liberalization is intended to promote corresponding business models and improve the recycling of waste. It is expected that this results in a higher recycling rate for certain waste categories such as e.g. plastics.

New littering regulations

Up until now, there were no standardized littering regulations on a national level. It was therefore left to each municipality to implement its own littering bans and sanctions (fines). nArt. 31b para. 7 EPA now provides for a federal ban on littering. Even small amounts of waste, such as packaging and cigarette butts, may not be thrown away and left lying around, but must be disposed of in designated containers. A violation of the littering ban is now punishable by a fine of up to CHF 300 (nArt. 61 para. 4 EPA).

Resource-conserving product design

nArt. 35i EPA grants the Federal Council the authority to define requirements for products (and packaging); the aim is to promote resource-conserving product design. This includes, for example, requirements regarding the recyclability of products and packaging (durability, spare parts, repairability) and the avoidance of harmful effects on the environment during the product's life cycle. In order to help consumers to make an information-based (purchase) decision for products and packaging, this also includes requirements for labeling and information. These specifications are intended to increase the durability and functionality of products; specifications and information on maintenance, repair and reuse are intended to promote durable product design.

The Federal Council is also authorized to introduce a repair-index. Consumers may consult the repair-index when purchasing a product to find out whether and how difficult it is to repair the product in the event of damage. France has introduced such an index a few years ago. It provides useful guidance by qualifying certain products from non-repairable (0) to very easily repairable (10).

Resource-conserving construction

Given the importance of the construction sector for resource consumption, it is not surprising that the planned amendments to the EPA also include provisions on resource-conserving construction. According to nArt. 35j EPA the Federal Council can issue regulations on the (re)use of environmentally friendly or recycled building materials and components and on the dismantling of buildings. The primary aim here is to promote measures that can be implemented without major additional expense, thereby advancing the circular economy in the construction industry in a cost-efficient manner and relieving the pressure on limited landfill space. To support this, the federal government can specifically promote recycled building products (nArt. 30d para. 7 EPA).

In addition to the new regulations on resource-conserving construction, it is planned to amend the Energy Act (EnG). The cantons will be given a legislative mandate to issue a threshold for gray energy in new buildings and significant renovation projects (nArt. 45 para. 3 lit. e EnG). This is meant to promote the demand for building materials with low embodied energy and support resource-conserving construction methods.

State role model

In order to emphasize the commitment to a circular economy and to promote the implementation of the principle of resource conservation, the federal government is obliged to act as a role model.

On the one hand, the federal government should set an example as a building owner when it comes to planning, construction, operation, renovation and dismantling of buildings, where it will have to take into account increased requirements for resource-conserving construction and innovative solutions (nArt. 35j para. 2 USG).

On the other hand, the federal government will be required to take into account the characteristics of the circular economy and resource conservation in the area of public procurement. To this end, the current optional provision in Art. 30 para. 4 of the Federal Act on Public Procurement (PPA) will be changed to a mandatory provision. This will oblige contracting authorities to examine the ecological aspects in all procurement matters (i.e. goods, services and construction work) and, where technically possible, to factor it into their procurement decision. These requirements are intended to ensure that public procurement meets increased ecological requirements.


With the legislative amendments discussed herein, Switzerland has made an explicit commitment to a circular economy. The primary obligation to conserve and reuse resources will ultimately have an impact on almost all sectors of the economy. The provisions to be implemented by the Federal Council will show in detail what specific obligations will be imposed on market participants. In any case, the new regulations will offer opportunities for innovative and sustainable business models thanks to funding possibilities and an opening of the waste market.

Authors: Klaus Neff and Barbara Meier