Golden key to circular economy

This was the motto of the 7th Austrian Re-Use Conference on 30 January 2020 in Graz. Top-class presentations, animated discussions and artistic interpretations of repair provided a thoroughly inspiring day.

Re-Use is currently in high demand at the political level both in Austria through the new government programme with the participation of the Green Party and in Europe through the European Green Deal. Against this background, this year's conference, organised by ARGE Abfallvermeidung, RepaNet and the Karl Franzens University of Graz, attracted 140 participants. The Member of the Austrian Parliament, Mrs. Astrid Rössler (Green Party), who is responsible for the topic of circular economy in the new government period, and the Rector of the University, Mr. Martin Polaschek, also took part in the conference.

The need for solidarity
In his keynote speech, University Professor Ulrich Brand, Institute for Political Science at the University of Vienna, placed re-use in a larger context. He stressed the need for a transformation from an imperial to a solidarity-based way of life and a new understanding of prosperity. Ms. Margit Schratzenstaller-Altzinger of the Austrian Institute of Economic Research (WIFO) gave a vivid summary of the WIFO study on instruments for the promotion of repair services. Interesting fact: In 2016, about € 300 million were spent in Austria for the repair of consumer goods - however, this represents only 4.5% of the total repair turnover. However, effective fiscal instruments could increase this ratio. Mrs. Juliane Theresa Müllner, staff member of the Ministry of the Environment, provided the background and explanations regarding the objective of the European  Single Use Plastic Directive.

News from the Region of Styria and the City of Graz
Ms. Ingrid Winter, head of waste and resource management in the Styrian region, presented the regional Waste Management Plan Styria 2019 and explained the vision " Circular Economy Styria 2050", which focuses on reuse and waste avoidance. Mr. Christopher Lindmayr from the Environmental Department of the City of Graz presented the successful Network "GRAZ repariert" (Graz repairs), which currently unites 36 repair shops and four Repair Café initiatives under one roof. The promotion of repair services for electrical appliances introduced by the City of Graz has caused repair services to increase dramatically. For Graz households, this subsidy amounts to 50% of the repair costs or a maximum of € 100,-- once per year.

Award for Mr. Gerhard Vogel
After the lunch break with a rich organic and vegetarian buffet, University Professor Gerhard Vogel, former head of the Institute for Technology and Sustainable Product Management at the Vienna University of Economics and Business Administration, explained the relevance of entropy in waste management. He emphasized that the preservation of form structure is the important and intelligent thing about re-use, which makes it superior to other systems such as recycling. Why reusable versus disposable systems are the winners in terms of resource conservation was made clear by some examples backed up with figures. Following his presentation, Mr. Gerhard Vogel was awarded the "Dagmar Grage Prize 2020 for Waste Avoidance and Recycling Management" for his pioneering work in waste management.

Right to repair
Ernestas Oldyrevas of ECOS (European Environmental Citizen's Organisation for Standardisation) provided a view beyond the national borders with his contribution on the civil society perspectives of repairs. He presented the "Right to Repair" coalition and condensed the political demands into three points: "good design - fair access - informed customers".

Building sector and industry
Catherine Gillier-Krajc (Federal Real Estate Company) and Markus Meissner (Project BauKarussell) demonstrated that re-use innovations of an international model character are taking place in the Austrian construction sector by means of the joint project MedUni Campus Mariannengasse, where a new research and teaching centre of MedUni Vienna is being built. Mr. Reinhard Hubmann, Environmental Officer of Supply Chain Management at Siemens AG Austria, outlined the challenges between recycling management and waste disposal management in the industrial environment. Here, the gigantic scale in a company like Siemens became clear: 1.25 tons of waste are generated per employee per year - and that with 379,000 employees. Mr. Hubmann is very keen to integrate reuse into the operating process and described the lack of product descriptions, too few buyers and the complex logistics as the greatest challenges.

Greta Thunberg in the performance of a local theatre initiative


Now you would think that the day had been quite dry. But on the one hand, the various perspectives on the topic provided variety and a look beyond one's own nose. And in between, Lorenz Kabas and Jacob Banigan from "Theater im Bahnhof", who approached Greta Thunberg in their appearance, provided a real storm of laughter.

Finally, a look ahead: The date for the 8th Austrian Re-Use Conference is already set - mark 28 January 2021 in the calendar.

Picture Gallery and download of presentations of the conference can be found on the website of ARGE Abfallvermeidung: