Old machines for new materials
But it is not only in terms of hygiene regulations that companies are facing unforeseen obstacles, but also in the production process itself. Existing production plants in the food sector are designed for “old” materials. New raw materials have different requirements – they are, for example, more heat-sensitive and stretchier – and are therefore not compatible with the old machines. Investments in new equipment are expensive. And usually, companies also need to involve their suppliers in the transformation to a different material. Therefore, a circular economy and bioeconomy only work across the entire supply chain. If successful, a critical mass can also be reached. Lone fighters find it difficult to assert themselves in the market. However, when many companies use new materials, the green transformation accelerates.
Tobias Stern, Executive Director of the Institute of Environmental Systems Science at the University of Graz and Bioeconomy Austria network partner, sees collaboration as the key to success: “Bioeconomy can be a real game-changer in terms of green growth and emission reduction. This requires networks like Bioeconomy Austria, which bring all actors in the value chain to the table.”
The green transformation must also be economically viable. The Austrian Research Promotion Agency (FFG) also notes that the conversion involves high costs. The demand for funding is increasing steadily. The FFG provides around 60 million euros annually for research projects on the topic. In addition to targeted funding, better legal framework conditions are also needed on how companies can and may use residual and old materials. For example, in construction, only 38 percent concrete recycling may be used. However, the technology already enables one hundred percent.
Less is more
When shifting from a linear to a circular economy, we must also consider the finite nature of natural resources. Wood is a popular raw material that benefits our forest-rich Austria. However, 88 percent of the wood growth is already used. The remaining stocks are in small private forests and are therefore difficult to develop. The pressure on our forests is high. Therefore, it is not only a matter of replacing raw materials but also of dealing with resources very carefully and sparingly.
Technologies alone will not solve the problem. We need an economy that is oriented towards nature. The central building block of a functioning circular economy and bioeconomy is society, which bears the costs. Awareness of the value of finite resources must increase. This includes, for example, that people know what and how they can best recycle. We need to learn to use resources better so that they do not run out. Karin Huber-Heim, Executive Director of the Circular Economy Forum Austria, emphasizes the importance of the careful use of valuable resources and awareness of sustainable consumption: “It is crucial that we all start together now.”
The panel was organized by Innovation Salzburg, Bioeconomy Austria, and the Salzburg Science and Research Council. Bioeconomy Austria is the gateway to the bioeconomy in Austria. The growing network is open to all interested organizations: www.bioeconomy-austria.at
Participants in the discussion were: