Harald Hauke
Harald Hauke on the waste management industry

In this interview, Harald Hauke, CEO of ARA AG, shares interesting information about waste management. Exciting facts and figures, the latest innovations as well as the challenges in the field are discussed by Dr. Markus Hengstschläger and Harald Hauke in our 30-minute interview.

  • 15 September 2023 10:03
  • By Markus Hengstschläger
  • Sustainability

In our interview, Dr. Markus Hengstschläger asks Harald Hauke, CEO of Altstoff Recycling Austria AG, about developments in waste management, circular economy, material flow management and many other topics. Hauke has now been CEO of ARA AG since the fall of 2022 and has an increased focus on customer benefits and digitalizatioin.

Protecting our environment and using our resources efficiently are of utmost importance nowadays. According to Hauke, in Austria we have already managed to meet and exceed the EU's 2030 recycling targets for paper, glass and metal. The Circularity Gap Report also shows that Austria is performing well in the area of waste management.

How does the circular economy work?

An important report, the so-called "Circularity Gap Report", shows that the world as a whole is only 7.2% circular. Yet Austria is already above the global average with a 10% share of circular products. But what does "circular" actually mean?

The idea of the circular economy is to keep materials in circulation for as long as possible. This means that we try to get as much as possible out of a product as soon as it is no longer used. A new product can then be made from this secondary material. This requires a shift in thinking right from the product design stage to ensure that the packaging or product can be fed back well into the recycling process at the end of its life cycle. This concept is referred to as "circular design".

To assist companies with packaging design as well as helpful info, experts from Altstoff Recycling Austria (ARA) are available to help. ARA evaluates the degree of recycling of products and provides valuable assessments.

The 3 Rs of waste management

The waste pyramid is composed of the 3 Rs:

  • Reduce (avoid or reduce waste)
  • Reuse (reuse of materials)
  • Recycle

Proper recycling can make a big impact. A good example of this is glass. For every 10% of shard of glass, you reduce your CO2 footprint by 7% and save 2% in energy.

To further improve our recycling capacities, the most modern recycling plant in Europe is currently being built in Enns, Upper Austria, with a capacity of 100,000 tons. With more than 40 near-infrared devices and artificial intelligence analyzing the material flow, technologies are improving and recycling costs can be reduced.

A key process here is what is known as material flow management. Here, the task is to separate the different materials correctly so that they can be reused. When separating plastics, glass, paper, etc. correctly, the secondary raw material can be led back to the right industry for recycling.

How does plastic get into the oceans?

Plastic pollution in the oceans is an enormous global problem. Of particular concern is that the majority of plastic waste comes from just 9-10 rivers, 8 of which are in Asia and 2 in South Africa. To counteract this problem, it is of great importance to establish a functioning waste management system in these regions. The know-how and experience from European countries could make a decisive contribution here. In Europe, we have already made significant progress in tackling plastic pollution, but it is important to recognize that we all need to do more. Because even though Europe is already doing well, we cannot sufficiently reduce plastic pollution in the ocean on our own. More than 50% of the plastic waste in the sea actually comes from the fishing industry.

Packaging, reuse of products and regulations influence the waste economy

In Austria, the Packaging Waste Regulation is currently being discussed, which aims to ensure that packaging is only large enough to protect the product sufficiently and to allow it to be moved easily from a logistical point of view. Marketing aspects take a back seat. However, packaging can make perfect sense if it effectively protects the product. This can be the case with food, for example. In the case of food, the actual product accounts for about 97% of the carbon footprint, while the packaging accounts for only 1-2%. If we save on packaging, for example, and a cucumber spoils after one week instead of two, this has a significantly more negative impact.

Another approach to reducing waste is the reuse of products. Repairing products in particular is an absolutely sensible measure, but it also depends on the quality of the product in question. A rethink is needed here in the business world, as we are currently often focused on growth and less on repair and longevity.

It is positive to see that regulations in waste management are tending to develop in the right direction. Last year, for example, about 4,500 companies were informed about the Waste Management Act and the corresponding regulations in ARA AG webinars. These are complex regulations. In order to be able to implement these regulations effectively, up to 1,000 participants per webinar are informed about the effects of the changes in these training sessions.

Handling packaging correctly and disposing of it properly are crucial to tackling the problem of plastic waste. Once something accidentally ends up in the residual waste, it is lost for recycling. In Europe, we collect about 150 kg of packaging waste per capita. We produce about 500 kg of municipal waste per capita and a total of about 5,000 kg of waste per capita a year. Majority of the waste is that kind of waste which is obstructed and taken to anthropogenic storage.

What innovations have been driven, and what is society's attitude toward waste management?

Innovations play an important role in managing the waste problem. Sorting technologies and digitalization have made it possible to collect over one million tons of packaging waste at 130 collection points. All these collection points are connected via one software, and up to 1,000 trucks empty the containers every day. Another interesting innovation is the Digi-Cycle app, which allows people to scan products, such as a yogurt pot, to get information about how they should be recycled. In addition, the app shows the location of the nearest yellow garbage can.

However, according to studies, 10-15% of the Austrian population still has an insufficient attitude towards waste separation. A classic example is throwing some trash out of the car while driving. There are certain groups of people who are less willing to collect and recycle waste, as shown by Sinus-Milieu studies.

For the end customer, it is important to know that plastic should definitely end up in the yellow garbage can. Residual waste has a calorific value comparable to lignite. So it is not necessary to add additional plastic to make the waste burn. In Europe, there is also a landfill ban on residual waste. The goal is to incinerate as little as possible and recycle as much as possible to minimize the carbon footprint.

Business as well as society and politics must join forces to effectively tackle the problem of plastic waste. It is important to communicate and inform consumers about the added value of active climate protection. Educating and raising awareness among citizens, starting with children, is of great importance. Recycling should be made as easy as possible to ensure that people do not lose their enthusiasm for recycling.

Only through the joint commitment of business, society and politics, we can create a sustainable future in which the correct disposal of packaging and active climate protection are a matter of course.

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Raiffeisen Bank International AG published this content on 15 September 2023 and is solely responsible for the information contained therein. Distributed by Public, unedited and unaltered, on 16 September 2023 01:33:08 UTC.