In this part of the expert interviews series we imnerviewed Roland Pomberger, university professor and head of the Department of Waste Recycling and Waste Management at the University of Leoben.
If the waste management of the past was dominated by the control of pollutants, waste is increasingly becoming an important resource. Making waste available as a raw material is not only a technical challenge but also a question of social acceptance. If secondary raw materials produced from waste are to be used more intensively, technical procedures must also be developed and legal requirements improved. These questions are at the heart of the activities of DI Dr. Pomberger at the Montanuniversität Leoben.
What issues will waste management dominate in the next few years?
I think there are 2 generic themes that are also imposed and enforced by the EU. On the one hand, the term "recycling society" must be mentioned, on the other hand it is "resource efficiency". These two subject complexes are dominated by a large number of activities by a wide range of actors. The reasons for this are political and waste management targets, such as the EU Waste Framework Directive.
The terms "recycling", "recycling" and "recovery" gain in importance internationally and are summarized under the term "recycling society". At EU level, more and more steering measures are being pursued towards recycling, which will also influence national legislation in the future.
The issue of energy and resource efficiency has a direct impact on waste management, as more efforts are being made to provide the same output with as little input as possible in product production.
In addition to these two generic themes, it is of decisive importance how the objectives are brought to the ground and implemented in practice. The right measures have to be determined and implemented for this, since otherwise an efficient target achievement is not guaranteed. Many of these measures are, of course, linked to the use of financial resources, which becomes a problem when, for monetary reasons, measures are identified or implemented inadequately or even counterproductively.
Through this reduction on the price, many environmentally relevant aspects are spared in the discussion or in tenders or similar. This is linked to the problem that in Austria, due to the current economic development, "too little waste" is being generated for the currently available disposal and recycling capacities. This increases the economic pressure in waste management. The actors in the waste management market are trying to exploit their capacities, partly at the expense of the wasteful economic sense. Unfortunately, this aspect is currently not in the limelight. Economic aspects radiate topics such as resources, exploitation solutions, pollutant aspects or climate protection.
A long-term issue in waste management is the so-called "Future Waste". These include all those products which are already developed and sold today, but will only become waste in the future. To this end, a separate working group has been set up at the Montanuniversität, which is currently developing, for example, a process for recycling lithium-ion batteries from e-mobility.
How is the Austrian industry involved in waste management?
There is a recent study by the EU (BIPRO) comparing waste management in all EU countries. The study leads to the conclusion that Austria, together with the Netherlands, was ranked first. This is illustrated by Austria's international pioneering role, among other things in the areas of collection rates, the differentiation of the collection or the share of the waste that is being recycled. Even the most advanced countries such as Germany have introduced the comprehensive bio-waste collection system only a few years ago, which has been around in Austria for many years. In other Western countries, a comprehensive separate collection is not yet reality, not to mention the situation in Eastern and South Eastern Europe.
Apart from the field of waste services, technology companies have also developed in Austria and have grown into world market leaders. The areas of sorting, waste processing or shredding technology in which Austrian companies play an important role in the international market are examples of this. The development of waste management has also led to the development of the technology. Innovations in the areas of service and technology are justified and motivated by the prevailing competition and the legal framework. Waste management has been one of the most innovative sectors in the last 20 years.
However, there is currently a trend towards re-communalization. This may lead to less competition in the system, which in turn leads to a reduction in motivation for innovation. I therefore advocate a balanced overall system between municipally organized and a competition-based waste management.
How is the Austrian industry involved in waste management?
Austria is always a niche player. The question is, what niche you are looking for and how to occupy it. Some niches are very well occupied by Austrian companies. Of course there are also foreign companies that offer high-quality goods and services in this area, but Austria as a relatively small country can certainly have companies that are technology leaders. Important for domestic companies is a food market, on which things can be developed and tested, since otherwise an international existence is difficult.
In many other countries there is a lot of catching up in waste management. This is due in part to the fact that a country has to be able to afford waste management, which is not the case in all countries. In many cases, a lack of budget also blocks the environmental dynamics.
What is the role of research and development in waste management, who are the players and where are the research fields?
As waste management is a very innovative industry, research, innovation and development play an important role. In the area of waste management, the University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences (BOKU), the Vienna University of Technology and the University of Leoben are active in various fields. BOKU is a leader in biogenic waste streams, while the Vienna University of Technology is very active in the resource management and material cycle sectors. The activities of the Montanuniversität are more process-oriented and more exploitable, and are generally located near the economy.
At the Montanuniversität interdisciplinary work is being done in the field of waste management. In many cases, waste management is concerned with the collection and pretreatment of waste in connection with recycling. The "real" recycling then happens in industrial plants. This is why a thematic overlap is so important in this area. Another example of cross-institute collaboration is the topic of "Rare Earths", as many of the institutes in the Montanuniversity have something to do with it.
The chairs I am chairing are the working groups "Future Waste", "Landfill Technology, Contaminated Sites, Slags", "Waste Fuel" and "Waste Treatment", all dealing with different aspects of waste management. Research at the University of Montreal can be seen as a very problem-solving application.
What is the role of legal framework in the area of waste management and what developments are to be expected?
The legal framework provides the prerequisites within which technologies and services can develop.
Legal frameworks stipulated by the EU do not allow any room for maneuver in the Member States. In recent years, for example, Austria has been trying to act better than the prescribed conditions. This has often been criticized, but I see it positively, as this has stimulated innovation and established the pioneer role. The objectives of waste management should be objectively measurable in order to be able to use actions in a targeted manner. Some approaches in this direction are being promoted, for example, by the ÖWAV. Here is a study on the measurement of waste management targets in preparation. The historically grown AWG should also be subject to a review in order to simplify and make it more applicable.
How do you see the developments in landfill mining, ie the recovery of raw materials from waste disposal sites?
Landfill mining is a sub-area of the broad concept of urban mining, which involves the recovery of raw materials from anthropogenic deposits. In the past, landfill was only rebuilt if there was a problem and never from raw material recovery.
At present Landfill Mining must be regarded as non-economic. You have to deal with this issue at an early stage in order to find out how you have to make landfill mining to make it economically viable and to identify the conditions for economical landfill mining (quality, quantity and achievable prices of the recoverable raw materials, etc.) , There is already a broad consortium of companies, research institutes and other institutions that deal with this issue in detail.
What are the challenges for the future at the Montanuniversität Leoben in the fields of waste / recycling / environmental technology?
I think that the raw material issue will continue to dominate our activities as, despite all the efficiency measures, more raw materials are needed in the future. The Montanuniversität is concerned with this subject area along the entire value chain, starting with the search for raw materials, the mining, the preparation and the related environmental issues. In addition, the topics of energy and "raw materials" at the Montanuni will gain in importance, and projects have already been launched.
Studium Bergwesen/Deponietechnik (Dipl.-Ing. 1991) undIndustrieller Umweltschutz, Entsorgungstechnik und Recycling (Dr. 2008) , Montanuniversität Leoben
Bereichsleiter für gefährliche Abfälle der Saubermacher Dienstleistungs GmbH, Graz
Abfallrechtlicher Geschäftsführer der Saubermacher Dienstleistungs AG, Graz ; sowie mehrerer Tochterunternehmen
Prokurist der Saubermacher Dienstleistungs AG (Umsatz ca. 300 Mio. €, 4000 MitarbeiterInnen) Konzernverantwortlich für die Bereiche F&E, Stoffstrommanagement, Produktionsmanagement, Innovationsmanagement;
Seit 2012: Univ. Professor (Leiter des Lehrstuhls für Abfallverwertungstechnik und Abfallwirtschaft) Montanuniversität Leoben