Why Austria is one of the pioneers in global waste management (the example of Styria, part 1)

11. October 2018 // All topics, News,

In the first part of our insights into the Austrian waste management, Ms. Ingrid Winter from the Styrian state government (A14 – Department of Waste Management and Sustainability) identifies the key milestones in the development of Styrian waste management, the legal framework conditions in Austria and Styria and why they provide the ideal environment for technology leaders in the recycling industry.

Ms. Dr. Winter, what were the key milestones in the development of Styrian waste management and why does it work as well as it does today?

The first waste management concept in Styria was adopted in 1989 by the Styrian state government. The updates were made with the “Styrian Waste Management Concept 1995” and the Regional Waste Management Plans (RWMP) in 2005 and 2010. The RWMP 2018 is currently in preparation.

A key milestone of Styrian waste management was the creation of the Waste Management Associations (AWV) in 1988. Since then, Styrian environmental and waste consultants of the AWV’s have provided awareness-raising activities on waste separation, waste prevention and environmental protection where it works best: in the population and here especially in schools and kindergartens.

However, the pioneering role of Styrian waste management is also due to the traditionally good cooperation between municipal and private waste management. The responsibility for the collection of municipal waste lies with the municipalities, those for the treatment of municipal waste in the waste management associations (which are community associations). The majority of the municipalities commissioned private waste disposal companies for waste collection.

Legal requirements and public administration initiatives often acted as a catalyst for the development of the private waste management industry as well as for numerous companies that were able to establish themselves on the world market with their innovative sorting and processing technologies. Currently, the focus is on the consistent development of a circular economy following the EU Action Plan.


Styria is home to many international technology leaders in the recycling industry. You have just mentioned that legal regulations and initiatives seem to offer optimal conditions for these recycling companies. Can you give a few examples here?

As mentioned before, Styria began setting legal framework conditions and technical impulses for the separate collection and treatment of individual waste streams 30 years ago.

The example of biowaste shows that the legal anchoring of a regionwide separate collection increased the collection of biowaste from approx. 1 kg / inhabitant in 1990 to approx. 61 kg / inhabitant in 2000. In 2016, a collection rate of around 92 kg / inhabitant was reached. The country’s strategies of 1989 stipulated that the recovery of separately collected biowaste should take place primarily in decentralized composting plants. Until today, this principle has resulted in about 70 composting plants in Styria. In 1992 within this environment the company Komptech GmbH brought its first product, a self-propelled compost turning machine, on the market. Numerous crushing, composting, screening and separation technologies followed.

The situation was similar with regard to used cooking oils and fats. Their separate collection was introduced throughout Styria in 1993, accompanied by support measures and public relations. Based on the processing technology for biodiesel developed at the University of Graz, the world’s first biodiesel filling station in Mureck was opened in 1994 by the then SEEG Mureck reg.Gen.m.b.H.. As a result, Styria has become a showcase for used cooking oil recovery and biodiesel production, which has also been reflected in the development of the associated plant engineering, for example by BDI-BioEnergy International GmbH.

A similar development was also apparent with regard to other separately collected waste fractions. For example, in the field of sorting used glass and waste plastics, Binder+Co AG and REDWAVE have produced internationally leading sensor-based sorting technologies.


A key factor in the success of these companies has also been their targeted networking at both regional and international levels. The history of the Styrian environmental engineering cluster dates back to 1998. Since 2005 under the name “ECO World Styria” and since 2016 as „Green Tech Cluster Styria“, it has soon become the world’s best environmental technology cluster. The cluster is run as a “public-private partnership” involving public institutions and private companies and counts more than 200 partners with approx. 21,000 employees in the green-tech sector. Together, the basis for innovation and increased international visibility through a common outward appearance is created.

In addition, the „Wirtschaftsinitiative Nachhaltigkeit – WIN“ is a promotional program specifically designed for SMEs. The aim is to give impulses for environmentally friendly and socially responsible business practices.


Which other legal conditions regulate waste management in Styria?

I would like to briefly explain the general framework conditions of waste management in Austria, which, of course, significantly influence Styria. In Austria there is the Federal Waste Management Act (Waste Management Act 2002 – AWG 2002) and the waste management laws of the nine federal states (in Styria the Styrian Waste Management Act 2004 – StAWG 2004). The StAWG 2004 applies to non-hazardous municipal waste (like residual waste, bulky waste, biowaste, waste materials and street sweepings). It regulates their collection including waste fees and transfer of ownership, the responsibilities and organization of municipal waste management, as well as the contents of the Regional Waste Management Plan.

The Federal Government’s AWG 2002 with its ordinances essentially regulates the collection, storage, transport and handling of all other waste, obligations of waste owners, requirements for waste collectors and treatment companies, treatment plants and landfills, collection and recovery systems, cross-border shipment, treatment contracts for waste and waste management checks. The AWG 2002 also requires municipalities to collect “hazardous substances” (household hazardous waste), WEEE and equipment batteries and accumulators.

Both laws define the precautionary principle and sustainability as their primary objectives and set the five-level waste hierarchy (prevention – preparation for re-use – recycling – other recovery – disposal) as waste management principles. In addition, the “public interests” to protect and the principle of proximity and self-sufficiency for residual waste are set.

In addition to the laws and regulations, there are the so-called Waste Management Plans. The Federal Waste Management Plan defines the technological state of the art in certain areas (for example treatment principles for waste streams, guidelines on transboundary movement, etc.). Both the Federal Waste Management Plan and the Provincial Waste Management Plan Styria include an inventory of the waste management system (waste volumes, flows and treatment plants), an assessment of future developments and the concrete measures and strategies derived from them. The Federal Waste Management Plan also includes the Waste Prevention Program for Austria. 


Dr. Ingrid Winter leads the Department of Waste Management and Sustainability of the Styrian Provincial Government and represents the country in various regional, national and European expert committees. In addition, the department handles subsidies for waste management and sustainability, makes official experts for waste management available to the public authorities and carries out various specialist projects. The unit “Sustainable Development” implements the UNO Sustainability Goals in the Styrian state administration as the current lead project.

Office of the Regional Government of Styria
Directorate 14 – Department Waste Management and Sustainability
A-8010 Graz, Wartingergasse 43
Tel.: 043-43-316-877-4323

Head of Department:
Dr. Ingrid Winter


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