Trash-to-Treasure Train Keeps Austrians Warm at Rome’s Expense

Trash brought by the trainload each week from Rome and paid for by the city is being turned into heat treasured on cold nights by homeowners in Austria.

EVN AG, the Alpine country’s second-biggest utility, will import 70,000 tons of garbage from Rome in the next year. It will help generate more than 550,000 megawatt-hours power at a waste-to-energy plant outside Vienna, said Stefan Zach, a spokesman for the company.

“This is good business for EVN,” Zach said by phone. EVN makes money selling electricity, heat and gas from the waste, which Rome pays 139.81 euros ($145) a ton to be transported and taken by EVN, according to Italian and Austrian reports cited by Zach. 

The waste-to-energy business between Austria and Italy is an example of the European Union’s so-called Circular Economy. Officials have been instituting taxes and regulations across the 28-nation bloc to squeeze more value out of trash. The rules induce cities to reduce the amount of garbage put into landfills. They also are working to spur recycling and to generate power from leftovers.

Percentage of Waste Recycled in EU

“We can only take the trash this year because we have spare capacity,” said Zach. Italy’s trash moves to Austria on two trains each week and arrives at the utility’s Zwentendorf-Duernrohr thermal-waste plant about 60 kilometers (37 miles) west of Vienna.

EVN built the facility next to an old coal-fired station in 2004 and doubled its capacity to 500,000 tons of trash a year in 2010. When running at full capacity, it cuts the amount of coal that needs to be burned by 100,000 tons a year, reducing the volume of refuse by 90 percent.

EU Trash Incineration in Kilograms Per Capita

Because Italians recycle less than their northern neighbors and Austrians rely on more trash for power, the two countries are ideal trading partners under rules set up by the EU, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance analyst Aleksandra Rybczynska.

“Countries like Austria have quite high recycling rates, which means they don’t have much waste left over for their to energy projects,” she said. “Austrians may have built too much capacity and didn’t foresee the upward trend of recycling.”

For Italians, the arrangement works because paying Austrians to turn their trash into power is less expensive than paying city authorities to put the garbage into the ground, Rybczynska said.

‘Tipping Fees’ for Landfills in Euros Per Ton

“There are a few more spaghetti packages but that’s the only difference to the Austrian trash,” Zach said. “Italy’s garbage problem is that they have too few waste-to-energy plants.”

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