Marco Ricci-Jürgensen explains how the Italian island of Pantelleria has become a beacon of best practice for the collection, handling and recycling of municipal solid waste on small islands with economies heavily based on tourism.
Achieving high Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) recycling quotas on Mediterranean islands is undoubtedly characterised by a series of specific problems with regard to the effectiveness of collection schemes and economic sustainability. These problems become particularly evident during summer when tourism increases the number of residents and thus the amounts of MSW to be managed correctly.
An MSW management scheme relying mostly on disposal is clearly in contradiction with the limited availability of space and the extraordinary beauty of the landscape. In addition, the separate collection and recycling of MSW, as in the case of plastics, metals, glass and others, is generally performed on small islands by transporting huge amounts to larger settlements mainly located in continental Europe.
Best Practice on Pantelleria
On the island of Pantelleria, work has been on-going to solve the issue of how to collect recyclables efficiently and to minimise the transport of solid waste to Sicily and (continental) Italy. The strategy developed for the island was based on the following key elements:
- Maximising the separate collection of recyclables that can be stored in the medium/long term so as to optimise the efficiency of transport to recycling facilities located far from the island
- Reducing the amount of residual waste that is disposed of by increasing separate collections to at least 50% to 65% of all MSW generated
- Setting up a collection scheme for food waste, gaining high purity and limiting contamination with plastics, metals and other rejects. The aim was to recycle this waste at a local composting facility, thus avoiding the need for any further transport of biowaste.
Over the past decade this ambitious strategy has been implemented in stages by the municipality. In 2013 the city issued a new Municipal Waste Management Plan and decided to abandon the existing bring scheme for MSW collection. Previously, separate collections did not reach 20% of all MSW.
From 2015 all roadside containers for mixed MSW collection were gradually eliminated and kerbside collection was adopted for residual waste and recyclables produced by commercial activities and by all households. In summer, crews collect from single dwellings and the apartments of both residents and tourists, thus making participation for seasonal users and tourists easy and convenient.
The municipality has provided each household with a set of buckets and bins with RFID transponders for different waste streams, thus enabling the municipality to trace the collection service and to monitor the number and types of bins that are emptied during each collection round. Food waste plays an important role in this new scheme and is collected three times per week in summer, while residual waste and recyclables are collected once per week. To ensure the quality of food waste, citizens are equipped with a vented kitchen caddy and a set of compostable bioplastic bags to be used as liners.
For bulky waste, users can request a pick-up service at the doorstep or deliver it directly to the island’s municipal collection centre. In addition to the kerbside scheme, a mobile collection centre visits different locations weekly, acting as an additional point of delivery for recyclables, bulky waste and Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE).
Strong advertising and communication activities have been implemented in order to convince people to participate in the new collection scheme for MSW and engage in separating food waste at home. A permanent help desk advises residents and tourists on how to sort recyclables correctly. It also hands out buckets, bins and compostable bags on request.
Results and Current Situation
The switch from roadside containers to kerbside collection shows the effectiveness of the new collection scheme (Graph 1), with significant results in terms of separate collection. With the new system the amount of residual waste (to be disposed of at landfill) was reduced by 67%, while the quantities collected separately for recycling rose by 200%. Currently, the average production of MSW per inhabitant is about 1.3 kg per day and about 70% of all waste is collected separately and sent for recycling.
Looking into the possibility of applying the concepts of the circular economy to the recycling of biowaste, the Municipality of Pantelleria is currently investigating a small-scale composting (and biogas) facility on the island for recycling up to 1000 tpa of biowaste. The biogas can be used to fuel the trucks for MSW collection and the compost can be applied directly to local farmland as an organic fertiliser and for fighting desertification and soil erosion.
Thus if you are going to visit this beautiful island for your summer holiday, be prepared to participate in the Italian job of separate collection and recycling and be part of a long-term strategy for minimising waste and realising the circular economy – even when you’re on vacation.
About the author
Marco Ricci-Jürgensen runs the consulting firm Altereko and is also chair of the Working Group on Biological Treatment of Waste at ISWA. In the past he has developed sustainable solutions for managing MSW on the island of Pantelleria.