Circular Economy. Copyright by Stanislaw Pytel via Getty Images.

The Austrian Circular Economy Strategy - where do we stand?

The sharp increase in the use and consumption of resources in recent decades is causing considerable environmental pollution. Climate protection therefore requires a fundamental transformation: from a linear "take-make-use-waste" economy to a circular economy.

Our current way of doing business and living is permanently increasing the pressure on our planet. As a result, the "planetary boundaries" have already been exceeded in many cases and our ecological livelihoods are severely threatened. In addition, increasing geostrategic dependencies and geopolitical conflicts are exacerbating the world situation. This presents us with enormous ecological, social, economic and technological challenges, which require a long-term view and strategy for reorientation.

The sharp increase in the use and consumption of resources in recent decades is causing considerable environmental pollution. For example, about 50 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions and more than 90 per cent of biodiversity loss and water stress are due to resource extraction and processing. Reducing resource use and waste and emissions is therefore of particular importance in the context of sustainable development and climate change mitigation. Its realisation requires a fundamental transformation: from a linear "take-make-use-waste" economy to a circular economy. This is the goal of the new Austrian circular economy strategy.

In a circular economy, raw materials and resources are obtained in an environmentally friendly way and the goods produced from them are manufactured in a way that conserves resources and minimises waste. The life span of products is extended and their use intensified. At the end of their use, products and goods are returned to the product cycle in order to retain their value for as long as possible. A circular economy makes it possible to decouple economic development from the use of natural resources and contributes to reducing dependencies.

The path of the circular economy strategy

In its current government programme, the Austrian Federal Government has set itself the goal of promoting the circular economy. A central measure is the development of a national circular economy strategy. In autumn 2020, the Ministry of Climate Protection began developing a circular economy strategy with the broad involvement of all relevant stakeholders from business and civil society, ministries, federal states and research.

At the beginning, there was an online survey with 405 participants, followed by in-depth interviews with selected early adopters from various sectors. In several online workshops, which took place in spring 2021, about 250 stakeholders contributed about 600 proposals for measures in the transformation focus areas of construction, mobility, plastics and packaging, textiles, electrical and electronic equipment, biomass and waste management. The results of these workshops were incorporated into the draft strategy and form the first starting points for the transition to a sustainable and circular economy and society.

The draft of the Austrian circular economy strategy was completed in December 2021 and subjected to a public review. The draft was well received by the interested public. Many comments were received and many important additions and extensions were incorporated into the strategy. The draft strategy was presented to the public for the first time at the Circular Economy Summit Austria im March 2022. The review process as well as the summit show the great interest in the circular economy strategy. The Ministry of Climate Protection is currently working intensively on the finalisation of the circular economy strategy and a decision by the Council of Ministers. The strategy is expected to be published in June 2022.

The central elements of the Austrian circular economy strategy

At the heart of the circular economy strategy are the vision, principles and goals. The vision in the circular economy strategy pursues the transformation of the Austrian economy and society into a climate-neutral, sustainable circular economy by 2050. This enables sustainable development that ensures the functioning of our ecosystem as well as quality of life and material prosperity for us and future generations.

The circular economy principles included in the strategy play a key role in the development of instruments and measures. The priority is to design products, services or business models to be comprehensively circular from the outset (circular by design) in order to avoid or reduce resource consumption. Reuse, maintenance and repair or refurbishment extend the useful life. With recycling, materials are returned to the production cycle as secondary raw materials.

The strategic goals form the core of the Austrian circular economy strategy:

  • Reduction of resource consumption and resource use
  • Avoidance of waste
  • Avoidance of environmental pollution by pollutants
  • Reduction of greenhouse gas emissions

In addition, there are concrete measurable goals, such as the reduction of the material footprint, the increase of resource productivity, the increase of the circularity rate, and the reduction of material consumption of private households.

In addition to the vision, principles and targets, the strategy also includes the legal framework, market incentives, financing and promotion, digitalisation and cooperation. Furthermore, it also contains the starting points for transformation with extensive proposals for measures in the priority areas.

Further information on the draft draft Circular Economy Strategy