Marco Ricci-Jürgensen on What Should be Learned from Italy’s Success

Italy – 20yrs of Continuous Growth in Separate Collection & Recycling of Organic Wastes

In February 1997 the Italian national Decree n° 22 was adopted reorganising the framework conditions and the strategic outlook for MSW. Today Italy collects separately 48% of all MSW with peaks of around 70%.

Opinion blog Marco Ricci-Juergensen
Image © Novamont S.p.A.

In February 1997 the Italian national Decree n° 22 was adopted reorganising the framework conditions and the strategic outlook for MSW in the whole country. The framework law acted as a fundamental driver to renew MSW management in over 8400 Italian municipalities; it established extensive EPR schemes for packaging waste and specific hazardous waste (such as batteries, pharma and others) and boosted separate collection also of organic waste.

Today Italians collect separately 48% of all MSW with peaks of about 70% in the two best-performing Regions such as Veneto and Trentino-South Tirol (with a population of about 6 million) and other three Italian Regions placed at about the 60% (population about 13 million).

In the two decades between 1997 and 2017 the amounts of organic waste collected separately increased by a factor 10, while main dry recyclables (i.e. paper, cardboard, plastics and glass) have risen by a factor 4 “only”.

The effect can be clearly seen on the development of an industrial sector of composting and biogas facilities represented by CIC – Italian Composting and Biogas Association, sector that boomed from about 30 facilities in year 1997 to more than 280 facilities in 2015, with a total treatment capacity of 8.1 million tons.

In 2015 more than 6.1 million [metric] tonnes of food and garden waste were collected separately in Italian municipalities, accounting for 100 kg per-capita and year; a significant threshold.

So today separate collection of food-waste and effective recycling of organics represent the backbone of modern MSW management schemes in Italy; in 2015 food-waste represents 28.5% of all MSW separately collected and send to recycling, while paper and cardboard accounts for 22.5%, being the largest packaging fraction collected separately in Italian municipalities.

Intensive sorting schemes are adopted in single municipalities and large districts (such as the experience in Treviso District reaching about 85% separate collection and recycling) and including medium-size towns (such as Parma or Bolzano applying kerbside collection and PAYT charges) or Metropolitan Cities (such as Milan) were significant amounts of food waste are collected and contribute to achieve high recycling rates

Italy produced in 2015 about 29.5 million tons of MSW, approx.  1.3kg per-capita and day, with significant variations among different Regional context; about 0.6 kg per-capita and day are collected separately.

Finally it is worth linking Italian’s data about separate collection to the recycling rates according to the EU Directive 2008/98/CE; according to methodology n° 2 Italy reached 46% recycling in 2015 so the 50% target for year 2020 will be met, considering the growth of separate collection of the past decades.

Marco Ricci-Juergensen is a senior expert at the Italian Composting and Biogas Association and Chair of the ISWA WG on Biological Treatment of Waste.

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