A new EU project deals with the collection and valorisation of biowaste : How to improve the collection of biowaste

Close up view of organic waste inside compost bin. Organic farming and healthy lifestyle concept
© GENETTICA - stock.adobe.com

How much biowaste is produced in Europe?

About 225 Mt of municipal solid waste (MSW) has been collected in 2020 in Europe (505 kg per capita). And this number is expected to increase during the next years. For this reason projects like SCALIBUR are so important.

How much of the general waste stream is biowaste?

Considering the average composition of MSW in Europe in the last years: 32% food and garden waste, 29% paper and cardboard, 11% glass, 8% plastics, 5% metals, 2% textiles, and the rest other materials.

How much of it gets recycled?

Regarding MSW, the waste which is concerned by the SCALIBUR project, only 48% is valorized and the rest 52% is eliminated.

The details of the valorisation are as follows: 30% is recycled and 18% is valorized by composting. And the remaining 52% is split thus: 27% in waste to energy/incineration plants and 25% is landfilled.

Why is it a problem if it lands in a landfill/incineration?

There is a huge environmental impact associated with the greenhouse effect of gases generated, not to mention the economic loss considering landfill tax cost, as well as the real value of the different recyclable materials extracted from MSW (the organic fraction of the municipal solid waste, plastics, paper, metals, and glass), millions of euros, have been lost due to the landfill of MSW in the EU.

To go further in detail and numbers: 0,13 kilogram of CO2 is produced per each kilogram of MSW thrown into a landfill.

Moreover, solid waste disposal on land contributes 2.4 % to total GHG emissions in 2019 (Annual European Union greenhouse gas inventory 1990–2019 and inventory report 2021 de la EEA).

How to sustainably use biowaste? Read our articles here and here!

Can you tell us about the SCALIBUR project: How did it start?

We identified that this was one of the key topics established by the European Union to orient R&D efforts within the Horizon 2020 programme and to boost circular economy in the area of biowaste management.

At ITENE, we have extensive experience in these R&D projects funded by the European Commission: since 2007, we have participated in 100 projects, being the coordinator of 17 of them, including the SCALIBUR project.

To constitute this consortium, composed of 20 partners from 7 countries, we got in contact with major companies, relevant research centers and universities and other key partners, such as municipalities and consultancies, that could contribute to the success of this project, as it has happened.

César Aliaga, SCALIBUR coordinator and Head of Packaging and Circular Economy Unit at ITENE research center
César Aliaga, SCALIBUR coordinator and Head of Packaging and Circular Economy Unit at ITENE research center - © ITENE

Who’s working on it?

ITENE (Spain), AERIS (Spain), AQUALIA (Spain), ASA (Germany), FUNDACION CENER-CIEMAT (Spain), CLUBE (Greece), CSCP (Germany), FCC (Spain), GREENOVATE! EUROPE (Belgium), KOUR (Italy), NOVAMONT (Italy), NUTRITION SCIENCES (Belgium), UNIVERSITA DEGLI STUDI DI MODENA E REGGIO EMILIA (Italy), IRIS TECHNOLOGY GROUP (Spain), WETSUS (Netherlands), WATERSCHAP BRABANTSE DELTA (Netherlands) and ZETADEC B.V. (Netherlands), and the municipalities of Lazio (Italy), Lund (Sweden), AYUNTAMIENTO DE MADRID (Spain).

What are its main goals?

The goal of the SCALIBUR project was to valorize the organic matter into value-added products (e.g., biomaterials). To reach this purpose, this project developed several techniques for improving the collection, transport, and characterization processes.

Related to these activities, an IoT system including filling and gas sensors, together with a data management platform were deployed in Kozani (Greece) to monitor the Organic Fraction of Municipal Solid Waste (OFMSW) containers, to plan the collection and optimize the route to be followed by the vehicles used in the operation, depending on the volume of containers filled and the level of waste degradation.

Following the deployment of the technology developed for validation in a real environment, the main results obtained indicated a strong improvement in operational efficiency and sustainability. Specifically, the reductions in energy consumption and CO2 emissions exceeded 45%. Likewise, the time it takes to carry out the operation was also significantly reduced (by almost 50%).

Social awareness, sorting, pre-treatments and characterization are the best practices that were evalued and optimised during the project.
César Aliaga
How long is it running?
It runs for four years, from 2018 to 2022.

Can you tell us about the pilot projects and the key findings?

The cities and their Best Practices to solve problems in each one have been focused on:

  • Albano Laziale (Italy): Collection, transport and characterization.
  • Kozani (Greece): Collection, transport and characterization.
  • Madrid (Spain): social awareness, sorting, pre-treatment and characterization.

The SCALIBUR pilots in the three cities had successful results. In terms of savings, optimization was achieved in: distance done by the collection trucks (km), the time required by the trucks to do the collection route (min), fuel used by the trucks during the collection routes (l) and equivalent CO2
emissions occurred during the routes (kg).

Hardware and software developed by ITENE were used in Kozani. The hardware development consisted of devices with sensors that measure the filling level of the containers and the status of the waste (through its gas emissions levels), while the software was a platform where every container and device were registered and, according to their measurements, the platform optimized the collection routes in order to save costs.

In Kozani, savings of around 50% were achieved in terms of distance done by the collection trucks, the time required to do the route, fuel consumed by the trucks and CO2 emissions.

In the city of Albano, the operative was similar to the one in Kozani but, in this case, the devices and platform were commercial ones and, due to this fact, the devices were only capable of measuring the filling level of the containers.

In Albano, savings achieved amounted to around 40% in terms of distance done by the collection trucks, time required to do the route, fuel consumed by the trucks and CO2 emissions.

Eventually, the best practices selected for the pilot in Madrid can be summarized as follow: social awareness, sorting, pre-treatments and characterization. Indeed, these implementations were in line with the main strategies and focus of the municipality of Madrid in its search of a green city. Therefore, as a result of this work, remarkable results in the increase of the organic matter content from 2019 to 2022, from 75 % to 83 %, were achieved, resulting in enormous benefits and promising valuable sources.

An IoT system including filling and gas sensors, together with a data management platform was deployed in Kozani (Greece) to monitor the Organic Fraction of Municipal Solid Waste (OFMSW) containers, to plan the collection and optimize the route.


What are the next steps?

It would be interesting to set up the pilot technology to be implemented in other cities. Moreover, it would also be interesting to develop our technology in other fractions of waste, to reduce costs and to improve collection routes, for instance, in the paper and cardboard fraction, or the residual fraction of waste.

What other results were achieved in this project?

In this project, further processes to offer new valorisation routes for organic waste were developed. A biochemical route allows for the production of concentrated sugars from organic waste (CENER), utilising new enzyme cocktails specifically developed for biowaste hydrolysation (ASA), which are used for the production of biobased biodegradable polyesters (Novamont). Downstream partners have produced biopesticides from both the liquid hydrolysate by fermentation (CENER) and the solid hydrolysate, by Solid State Fermentation (Aeris).

Another route has seen the development of insect rearing and fractionation plants (UNIMORE & Kour Energy) enabling the extraction of proteins from insect Larvae (Zetadec) for feed ingredients (Nutrition Science), and the production of other biomaterials, including chitin nanofibers and chitosan for the development of PLA and PHB-based formulations.

Innovative processes for the treatment of sewage sludge were piloted, such as a demo plant for the production of PHA (Wetsus & Waterschap Brabantse Delta) as well as production of organic compounds from biogas (Aqualia) and improvements in the whole sludge management line (Aqualia).

Chitin obtained in the SCALIBUR project.