General News

Sustainability through product design


Take, produce, consume and throw away - that is the linear pattern of our throwaway society. In Austria alone, around 30 million tonnes of waste are produced every year, and this does not include the 45 million tonnes of excavation waste (excavated soil).

It is estimated that up to 80% of the environmental impact of products can be attributed to their design. However, manufacturers still seem to lack incentives to design products in a more circular way. Across the EU, there are already initial initiatives and legislation that address sustainability aspects of products: for example, the Ecodesign Directive, the EU Ecolabel or the EU Green Public Procurement (GPP) criteria. However, a comprehensive set of regulations governing the sustainability of products placed on the EU market and their suitability for the circular economy is missing so far.

In June 2018, the EU Circular Economy Package was published to push for a more circular economy, which is about preserving the value of products, materials and resources within the economy for as long as possible and generating as little waste as possible. Through intelligent product design, more recycling and reuse, the aim is to increasingly close the loop in product life cycles and achieve more effective value creation and use of all raw materials, products and waste.

In December 2021, the Circular Economy Package and the Directive on the Reduction of the Impact of Certain Plastic Products on the Environment (SEA Directive) were implemented in Austrian law by amending the Waste Management Act in particular. This is intended to implement the following objectives of EU law:

  • General recycling target (at least 65% by 2035).
  • By 2030, the following specific recycling rates for packaging must be achieved: total (70%), plastics (55%), wood (30%), ferrous metals (80%), aluminium (60%), glass (75%) and paper and cardboard (85%).
  • By 1 January 2025, all EU Member States must set up separate collections also for textile waste; and
  • By 31 December 2023, it must be ensured that bio-waste is either collected separately or recycled at source through composting.
  • Finally, with the extended producer responsibility, product manufacturers are to be made responsible for ensuring the management of their products at the waste stage and are to make a financial contribution to this.

However, the construction industry represents the largest "chunk" of waste generation. It is responsible for about 75% of all waste generated (59% excavated materials and 16% construction and demolition waste) and it devours enormous resources with 50% of the total raw material extraction and is responsible for 5-12% of greenhouse gas emissions. In order to raise the potential of the circular economy also in the construction sector, the EU is planning a strategy for a sustainable built environment.

In view of the current energy and raw materials crisis, however, the construction industry is already challenged to increase the recycling rate and the durability and adaptability of buildings, e.g. through appropriate product design, and to ensure that construction and demolition waste that nevertheless accumulates can be recycled in the best possible way. In this way, the construction industry could also become a major player when it comes to reducing resource consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.