Austrian consumers are really good at sorting waste: 96 % of them separate their packaging waste from general waste. According to a Euro-barometer survey, 99 percent of Austrians take care to at least occasionally separate paper from other waste for recycling.1 Taken together, Austrian households sort and collect more than 1 million tonnes of packaging and paper waste each year, so they can be sent for recovery. The ARA waste management and recycling group provides consumers with around 1.8 million bins for the collection of waste packaging made of paper, plastic, metal and glass. In addition, they organise a pick-up service for 1.6 million households (yellow bag/yellow bin scheme).2
The ARA Recycling system
The ARA service group has been a driving force in the Austrian recycling economy since 1993. Originally conceived as a packaging compliance scheme, ARA has since established itself as a recycling expert, a driver of innovation in resource management and the go-to partner for bespoke waste management solutions. Today, ARA is recognized internationally for the quality of its services.3
To ensure complete compliance of the recycling custody chain, ARA group consists of seven subsidiaries: ARAplus GmbH, ARES GmbH, Austria Glas Recycling GmbH, DiGiDO GmbH, ERA GmbH, LogMan GmbH and NetMan GmbH. ARA AG is Austria’s leading packaging compliance scheme and a non-profit company. They use the revenues from compliance fees to organise and finance the collection and recovery of packaging waste in Austria. ARA AG is owned by packaging manufacturers, manufacturers and businesses as well as trading companies.4
The environmental impact of the ARA group was evaluated by the Environment Agency Austria and the Vienna University of Technology, who confirmed that ARA helped save 500,000 tonnes CO2 equivalents in 2016. This corresponds to around 6 % of the annual emissions caused by all passenger cars registered in Austria. Producing secondary raw materials from WEEE and recycling CFC-containing cooling appliances also helps to protect the climate: The associated greenhouse gas emission savings in Austria totalled around 300,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalents in 2016.5
ARA organises and finances the collection, sorting and recovery of packaging waste throughout Austria. Together with partners, they provide households and businesses with a countrywide and well-developed collection infrastructure as well as convenient and cost-efficient waste management solutions that facilitate efficient collection and environmentally friendly recovery.
ARA provides consumers with around 1.8 million bins for the collection of waste packaging made of paper, plastic, metal and glass. In addition, they organise a kerbside collection service for packaging waste (yellow bag/yellow bin) for 1.6 million households.
A subsidiary company ARA Gmbh, is the leading Austrian specialist for waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), ERA offers a comprehensive recycling service for WEEE and batteries. In addition, they take on all obligations that businesses have and may outsource under the Austrian WEEE Ordinance and the Batteries Ordinance.
In Austria, around 80,000 tonnes of WEEE and 2,500 tonnes of waste batteries are collected every year; the ARA service group (specifically, the ERA compliance service) accounts for 40 % of this amount. Every Austrian resident collects around 9.5 kilogrammes of WEEE per year – a top result in Europe.
Consumers and businesses drop off WEEE and used batteries at around 2,100 collection points across the country; ERA provides 100 such points. In addition, people can also return WEEE to retailers/distributors when they purchase a new, equivalent device which fulfils the same functions as the old one, provided that the shop’s sales area is greater than or equal to 150 square metres. Batteries can always be returned to vendors free of charge, even when not buying new ones.
Every year, more than one million tonnes of packaging and waste paper are collected. Around 90% of the packaging waste is sent for material recovery and turned into new products. The rest is utilised as a valuable industrial fuel or converted into energy (district heating).
For example, Vienna has three world class incineration plants. The plant of Pfaffenau operates six miles southeast of the city center, and is a genuine tourist attraction. The sleek, modern, and orange design is certainly a major driver of visitor interest–it’s unusual to see a waste facility look so hip. Pfaffenau doesn’t just burn trash–it saves space and creates energy for the city. Every day up to 200 truckloads deliver 770 tons of non-recyclable waste to the facility. The trash then moves through a maze-like process of sorting, burning, and other chemical reactions, leaving the plant with a mix of recyclable metal scraps and a ton of dust. In the end, Pfaffenau produces enough heat to warm 50,000 homes and enough electricity to power another 25,000. Numbers like that suggest it’s more appropriate to call Pfaffenau a power plant.7
Pfaffenau joins with other waste facilities to create a tantalizing result: a city that doesn’t landfill. Since 2009, Vienna’s landfill ban means it replaces trash mountains with energy generation, product recycling, and biodegradable waste. The separate collection and recovery of packaging waste in Austria saves more than 500,000 tonnes of CO2 per year. This corresponds to around 6% of the annual emissions caused by all passenger cars registered in Austria.
Achieving economies of scale, for the recycling of materials, can be a significant challenge due to the cost and difficulties of transport, and relatively low volumes of recyclable waste. Despite these challenges, some communities have succeeded in implementing various solutions to deal with waste issues in the mountain context.
Austria is helped by a number of nation wide legislations that regulate the waste management and recycling industry, including Ozone Act; Environmental Assistance Act; Environmental Information Act; Environment Accident Information Regulation; Federal Act on Environmental Impact Assessment and Citizens’ Participation; Federal Act on the Establishment of an Environmental Board; Trade Regulation Act; Genetic Engineering Act; Fertilizers Act; Act on Eco-Auditors and Register of Sites; Packaging Regulation.9 Global agreements such as the Global Rotterdam Convention on PIC and the POPs Protocol to the Geneva Convention and the Global Stockholm Convention on POPs.
Austria has been very successful in dealing with all major environmental issues of the late 1970s. Its achievements concerning conventional pollutants such as SOx (a reduction of 81 per cent between 1980 and 1992) put the country among the top in the OECD in this regard. Austria has enacted elaborate environmental legislation, developed detailed regulations and enforced its policies very strictly. The main emphasis has been on the use of end-of- pipe technology with a strong regulatory system. Austrian environmental expenditure in terms of GDP is among the highest in the OECD, and industry and municipalities have received substantial subsidies to support their endeavours. Results achieved can be partly explained by Austria’s long tradition of consensus building through early dialogue with the social partners (industry and trade unions as well as commerce and labour chambers with compulsory membership), a widespread law-abiding attitude and a solid federal and provincial administrative structure.10
Even if Vienna’s incineration of trash and efficient heating systems are on a considerably greater (and greener) scale than in most global cities, the sheer growth in volume of the trash that needs processing is alarming. There is still considerable effort required to change the human behaviours that make single use plastics such a pervasive problem. In Austria, the municipal authorities and the ARA group of companies are working to engage in numerous public education drives, encouraging citizens to switch from disposable to multi-use cups for takeaway coffee, cut down on their food waste or use washable diapers for their babies.11