This year and for the eighth in a row, Vienna tops the Mercer quality of living survey where 230 cities worldwide are compared based on 39 criteria such as political, social, economic, and environmental factors. I sure love Vienna where I live now, but — sadly — the city I love most, Baghdad, is the last in Mercer’s list.

Environmental factors are major parameters in deciding the quality of life and Vienna prides itself to have realised this for decades now. One of the most important issues facing major cities such is the sustainable collection, recycling and disposal of waste in general and municipal waste in particular. More importantly, how waste management can also be related to the energy requirement of cities.

The long term planning of waste management requires an attractive collection system and waste segregation, risk-free waste treatment and awareness programmes. The Waste Management Act for Vienna ensures these elements.

The citizens having realised that it is in their best interest to perform, are most cooperative in the collection, segregation and reduction of household waste in such a way that recyclable materials are collected separately. Therefore, paper, for instance, is collected separately and Austria prides itself on recycling 70 per cent of the paper it uses. The same goes for glass bottles, plastics and metals.

Energy generation

Even some biological waste, such as grass cuttings and tree trimmings are used locally or in centralised plants for agricultural compost.

Instead of dumping household waste in landfills, Vienna opted to use household waste for incineration and energy generation. There are four plants in Vienna for this purpose such as the one in Spitelau, close to the famous city centre. 
Another plant is in Flotzersteig, on the western edge of the city, where 200,000 tonnes of waste is converted into district heat.

The third plant, in Simmeringer Haide, is the one that deals with industrial waste, which consists of the sludge of sewage treatment, waste industrial oils, waste paints, animal meal and fat, waste solvents, hospital waste, contaminated soils, polluted metals and plastics as well as unsorted expired medications and other similarly hazardous materials, such as household batteries.

The fourth plant is the Pfaffenau waste incineration plant, which uses 250,000 tonnes of residual waste annually to produce 410 GWh (gigawatt hours) of district heat and 65 GWh of electricity to supply 50,000 households with district heating and 25,000 with electricity. Next to the Pfaffenau plant is the Waste Logistics Centre, which started operations in 2013, for the pre -treatment and interim storage of excess residual waste in bales for future use.

It is estimated that Vienna produces about one million tonnes of waste a year, where about 350,000 tonnes of this waste is segregated and collected separately in 200,000 containers around the city for recycling.

Efficiency improvement

Residual and bulky waste is collected for use in energy generation, with about 60 per cent of all waste annually produced in Vienna is treated thermally at one of four waste incineration plants, which cogenerate energy for district heating or cooling and electricity.

Every year, 250,000 tonnes of waste are delivered to the “Rinter Tent” waste treatment plant on the outskirts of Vienna to deal with recyclables, electrical appliances and hazardous waste. It also deals with incineration residues and compacts 200,000 tonnes of slag and ash from all incineration plants into slag-ash concrete or to be stored in the next door Rautenweg landfill.

Vienna’s incineration plants generate about 1.2 million, 81,000 and 38,000 megawatt hours of heat, electricity and district cooling respectively, equivalent to more than half a million tonnes of oil. The network length of more than 1,100 kilometres of district-heating lines supplies 318,000 dwellings and 6,200 other major customers.

Officials say that the system is reviewed constantly for efficiency improvement especially with respect to segregation and reduction of waste.

In the UAE, Dubai municipal waste is reported to be 11,000 tonnes a day almost four times as much as Vienna and when the Dubai Integrated Waste Management Master Plan of 2012 is completed, incineration will probably save a lot of oil and natural gas used for power generation.

In Abu Dhabi, the $850 million (Dh3.1 billion) incinerator plant to convert heat from burning municipal waste into electricity that will be constructed near Mussaffah and fuelled by about one million tonnes of waste a year to produce 100MW of electricity.

More should be done ... not only in the UAE but across the region. Governments and citizens must

realise that municipal waste is a resource that should not be squandered.

The writer is former head of the Energy Studies Department at the Opec Secretariat in Vienna.