The Vienna Model exemplifies the circular economy

In 2015, the European Commission has set up an Action Plan which aims to reduce the volume of waste and recycle waste in a more environmentally-friendly and resource-saving manner. Austria ranks among the leaders in the EU given the waste management measures that had already been taken, and Wien Energie has a role to play here. In combination with Wien Energie’s other energy-related services, the Vienna Model for thermally recycling household waste around 800,000 t of municipal waste, 200,000 t of sewage sludge and 100,000 t of industrial and commercial waste is a showcase model for efficiently providing around 1.4 million customers with electricity, heating and natural gas. The high level of efficiency achieved by Wien Energie saves up to three million tonnes of CO2 every year.

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Background information

The EU’s Circular Economy Package is intended to help promote sustainable economic growth and create new jobs. Austria is already among the leaders in Europe as a result the measures it has already taken. With its Vienna Model and the focus on thermally processing non-recyclable household waste, Wien Energie showcases how energy released can be harnessed and recycled for use as district heating and to produce electricity.

The Action Plan proposes amendments that need to be made to six directives in order to make product life cycles fully circular by 2020.

The applicable law in Austria is the Waste Management Act 2002 (Abfallwirtschaftsgesetz, AWG). Around 65 million tonnes of waste were produced in Austria in 2017. The federal provinces prepare their provincial waste management plans, reports and/or concepts at regular intervals on the basis of the respectively applicable provincial law on waste management. Work is currently under way to amend the Waste Management Act to implement the circular economy package.

Around 1.1. million tonnes of municipal waste are produced in Vienna year. Sustainable waste management means working to avoid waste altogether, turning waste that is produced into high quality raw materials and thermally processing waste that cannot be avoided or recycled. In Austria, it has been forbidden to dump untreated waste since 2009. Municipal waste at present is thermally processed in Vienna’s waste incineration plants largely without being sorted. Sorted waste (such as glass, metal, organic waste) is collected separately and recycled accordingly. Furthermore, any residual slag left over after incineration is processed and recycled wherever possible.

In future, recyclable materials such as glass, paper and metal disposed of together will be removed from the bins before the rest of the waste is incinerated. The remaining waste that cannot be recycled will then be incinerated in the waste incineration plants of the City of Vienna.

  • Harness energy from waste is the most modern way of making use of non-recyclable waste, with the organic substances being destroyed here with a maximum degree of efficiency. The combustion process is monitored and advanced flue-gas cleaning technology largely prevents any harm from being done to the environment.
  • The energy released is used by Wien Energie both to produce heating for its district heating service and to produce electricity to run its own plants and for sale to the grid. As much as 650,000 tonnes of CO2 are saved every year by combining waste incineration with district heating.
  • Wien Energie is 90 percent below the regulatory thresholds set for waste incineration plants on a yearly average. This is one of the best performances anywhere in the world. The Vienna Model efficiently supplies around 400,000 households and large customers with district heating all year round, and one million households with electricity and natural gas.
  • The four waste incineration plants operated by Wien Energie generate 1.8 million megawatt hours of district heating every year. The best known of these is the Spittelau waste incineration plant which, with its striking façade designed by the famous artist Hundertwasser, has become one of the city’s landmarks.

At the EU level, the Taxonomy Regulation has defined criteria for sustainable finance. Thermal waste recycling has been defined by the Regulation as doing harm to the environment, a claim which is clearly refuted by the waste incineration plants operated by Wien Energie. Thermal waste recycling plays a significant role in reducing pollutants, improves energy efficiency, helps achieve the renewable energy targets for heat generation and is clearly in keeping with the Waste Incineration Directive. A general concept to manage Vienna’s waste is currently being developed in order to remain a pioneer in the field of waste management and to meet the ambitious recycling targets. This concept will produce a number of measures designed to result in investments to safeguard the continued operation of the waste incineration plants in the future.

Karl Gruber

“We generate electricity and heating both efficiently and sustainably in our waste incineration plant at Spittelau. Around 60 percent of the energy produced every year from waste incineration stems from biogenic or renewable sources. We will be able to maintain our leading position in Europe thanks to ongoing work to optimise the plant and make even more efficient use of the energy resources contained in waste.”

Karl Gruber, General Manager of Wien Energie

We’ll show how it’s done

Learn more about our showcase projects


Sewage sludge drying

Wien Energie has developed an innovative process for the digestion, dehydration, drying and incineration of sewage sludge to produce environmentally-friendly district heating. 40,000 tonnes CO2 can thus be saved every year. An additional, environmentally-friendly advantage of the process is that phosphorus can be recovered.


The Vienna Model

The model combines the use of waste heat from power generation (cogeneration), the generation of energy from waste, the utilisation of industrial heat and the use of renewable energy sources. This saves three million tonnes of CO2 every year.

Further information

Your contact person

Yolande Kyoni
Yolande Kyoni

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