For years the idea of the circular economy embodies the vision of an economy with controllable resource consumption. Pioneer work was carried out, for example, by the European Union with its Circular Economy Package. This creates the foundation for enabling (secondary) raw materials to remain in the economic cycle as long and efficiently as possible. This can be done if attention is paid to economical raw material use, durability and repairability and reusability at the beginning of the value chain, and that the materials can be optimally collected, sorted and recycled after their use.
Austria is a strong partner of the EU
As a strong partner of the EU, Austria already ranks as an international trailblazer. Austrian households generate approxuimately 4.3 mio tons of waste each year, of which 90% is recycled. The initiatives implemented by the Austrian Waste Consulting Association (VABÖ) have borne fruit. For decades it has worked together with its 365 municipal environmental and waste consultants to raise awareness of the need for resource-saving consumption. The company Altstoff Recycling Austria AG (ARA) also makes an important contribution, serving as a driving force in the Austrian circular economy. In 1993 ARA launched a collection and recycling system for packaging, and in its role as a preferred partner of domestic firms has evolved into an innovation driver in the field of resource management. ARA has decisively shaped the overlapping of ecology and economy and done its share to ensure that the Alpine Republic has already achieved the required recycling rate stipulated for the year 2025.
Relevance of a political dialogue on a national and European level
However, the circular economy is not an issue which is only relevant in the field of waste management but should also be dealt with on the level of society. One starting signal sounded in March 2018 with the kick-off event of the Circular Economy Platform Austria held in the House of the European Union in Vienna. The event was staged by the Environmental Umbrella Association in collaboration with VABÖ, RepaNet and the European Environmental Bureau (EEB).
RepaNet is an Austrian re-use and repair network which has been advocating the circular economy as well as intelligent and above all longer resource and product use on a European level for more than ten years in cooperation with the European umbrella association RREUSE. Above all, it calls for creating new, innovative jobs in this field in the social economy. Today the 27 members of RepaNet have created 1,800 circular economy jobs.
Growth engine for the economy
The EU measure to increase the recycling rate and promote high-quality recycling is not only designed to protect the environment but also the business location. As a growing market with enormous employment potential, the circular economy opens up major opportunities in particular. This is good news for Austria, in light of the fact that the country is very well positioned with respect to know-how and technology. This expertise can be exported abroad, which in turn creates jobs in the country. A total of 170K new jobs are expected to be created in this field throughout Europe by the year 2035.
A welcome side effect for companies in the EU is the cost-savings potential. The primary use of materials can be reduced by 17 to 24% along the entire value chain. The improved use of resources would lead to potential savings of €630 mio annually for European industry, or 8% of its total annual revenue.
Coherent plastics strategy required for industry
The priorities of the circular economy include the reduced reliance on plastics and microplastics. This is the basis of the EU plastics strategy. The planned measures to cut down on one-way plastic products represent important political milestones to reduce plastics in the environment. The international Borealis Group which employs 550 people at its facility in Schwechat near Vienna and produces about one million tons of polyolefins, has reacted accordingly. By acquiring the Austrian plastics recycling company Ecoplast Kunststoffrecycling GmbH, it targetedly expanded its competencies in this area.
All these developments and measures comprise a good foundation for a new era in sustainable industrial production. In order to really make a positive contribution towards combatting pollution, it will be necessary to attach greater emphasis in the future as well on targeted funding and economic incentives for projects in the circular economy. However, the examples provided above show that an ecologically conscious transformation does not necessarily have to go hand in hand with hardship and sacrifice but that it offers real economic potential.
By Dr. Martina Hölbling, Director Western Europe at ABA – Invest in Austria
This story initially appeared on ABA – Invest in Austria‘s website.