Cellophane, PVC, silicone and hard plastic - summarized as plastic - are part of our everyday life. From cling film to baby pacifiers. Elastic, odorless, light weight. A practical material that does not cause any problems in everyday life and is therefore very popular. But plastic has a catch: the material is indestructible and, as garbage, can only be decomposed and broken down with great difficulty. This makes plastic a problem for the environment. How can this be prevented?
In 2015 the European Commission presented the action plan "Closing the loop - An EU action plan for the circular economy". The action plan envisages a number of measures aimed at recycling materials such as plastic.
A target was also set: by 2030, the recycling rate for plastic packaging in every EU country should be 55 percent. The commission set a target of 90 percent for the recycling of plastic beverage bottles.
What is the situation like in Austria?
As a trained Austria you are on your toes with the colorful, clunky bins that are on every street corner. The green bin for stained glass, the white bin for white glass, the red bin for waste paper, the yellow bin for metal and plastic.
75.000 tons are recycled
But the recycling wonderland Austria also has some catching up to do. As a study by the Vienna Chamber of Commerce (WKW) shows, only 75.000 tons of a total of 300.000 tons of packaging are recycled, the rate is 25 percent. In order to achieve the EU targets, however, this value must be increased by 2030 tonnes by 90.000.
The current quota for plastic bottles in Austria is 70 percent, but the EU target is 90 percent. If the goals are not achieved, there is a risk of fines.
More plastic recycling could even make money. This is how WKW site attorney Alexander Biach sees it: "I'm sorry if the money is left in the garbage can," he says.
Companies in the Viennese circular economy already generate an annual turnover of 15,6 billion euros. This induces an annual gross value added of 6,7 billion euros. “On the one hand, the companies benefit from the added value through operating surpluses of almost three billion euros and, on the other hand, the employees benefit from wages of 3,5 billion euros,” explains the location attorney.
Industry links with the other federal states would make a contribution to gross domestic product of 14,6 billion euros or 3,8 percent throughout Austria. The 3.000 companies in Vienna's circular economy also employ 128.000 people in full-time jobs. "The EU requirements require an enormous effort," says Biach. "But they also offer great opportunities for the business location and for the job market."
But there is also another problem: Currently 7.600 tons of recycled plastic bottles from the yellow tons in Vienna are transported by truck the 200 kilometers to Graz every year. There they are processed further. A long way to go, which could be saved in terms of money and CO2-Emissions are concerned, says Biach. He is therefore calling for a fully automatic sorting system for Vienna with a rail connection. He estimates the costs at up to 50 million euros.
The long way to the dumpster
But how should the Austrians be motivated to recycle their plastic?
"Without a circular economy there is no green deal," says Harald Hauke, board member of Altstoff Recycling Austria AG (ARA). The company recycled a million tons of packaging in 2020. He sees Vienna as a model example for all of Austria. “The merging of metal and plastic in one bin two years ago was very successful,” he says. "Since then, 26 percent more plastic bottles have been recycled."
A common bin, a simple system, that is what he would like to see in the other federal states as well. “It has to be convenient and easy, then people join in,” he says.
More yellow bins are to be set up in Vienna in the near future. Currently, the average distance from a household to a plastic collection point is 175 meters. The way is still too far for many. He could therefore also imagine yellow bins in the garbage rooms of the residential complexes, but there is often too little space.
For Alexander Biach, increasing recycling could kill two birds with one stone: "We are thus making a contribution to environmental protection and stimulating the economy."