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Vienna Makes Peace With Its Trash

The famously clean Austrian city boasts one of the world’s most innovative waste processing systems.
Vienna's "Rinterzelt" waste-processing plant, among the world's largest, has come to be recognized as one of the city's best known modern landmarks.
Vienna's "Rinterzelt" waste-processing plant, among the world's largest, has come to be recognized as one of the city's best known modern landmarks.Lisi Nisener/Reuters

Visiting Vienna for the first time, what’s absent from the city’s streets can be as striking as what’s present. Certainly, you’ll notice the endless slabs of hefty baroque and historicist architecture (surrounded by a thick band of well-maintained public housing) and the ubiquitous public transit and bike lanes that have helped keep the city at the top of the Mercer Quality of Living Ranking for the past eight years. But you’ll also notice something just as striking: trash. Because there isn’t any.

Vienna’s almost eerily spick-and-span appearance isn’t just the product of an obsessive interest in public order. It’s the only visible trapping of one of the most innovative garbage management systems in the whole world. Unlike any other major world city, Vienna manages its residual waste entirely within the city limits—and even turns trash into a key resource that keeps hundreds of thousands of citizens warm through the winter. To find out more about the system works, I caught up with the city’s head of waste prevention, Martina Ableidinger, at last week’s ReSITE 2017 urban development and design conference.