Italy better recycler than other EU member states, claims report

TESTATA: European Environment & Packaging Law
TITOLO: Italy better recycler than other EU member states, claims report
DATA: 09/01/2013

Italy's separate collection and recycling system is more robust than most other EU countries – as the country has coped better than others with the 2008 financial crisis, according to a recent report presented to MEPs late last year.
The report, "Il riciclo ecofficiente, Eco-efficient recycling: the Italian recycling industry between the challenges of globalisation and the financial crisis” written by the research institute Ambiente Italia, said that one reason for this success is that Italy's high rates of collection and recovery are mainly accommodated inside the country, with the amount of exported recovered material very limited in terms of material type and tonnage.
Ambiente Italia did however recognise that several structural issues needed to be addressed to ensure that even more reclaimed materials can be used within Italy and, by extension, the EU.

“Italy has a strong recycling supply chain. Italy recovers and recycles 33 million tons of secondary raw materials, excluding inert materials and the organic fraction. In terms of produced amounts, the recycling industry is clearly a European leader, second only to Germany, and has the strongest recycling base among European countries,” states the report, adding that recycling in Italy “avoided 55 million tonnes of CO2 emissions in 2010 alone,” some 10 per cent of the total emissions generated by Italy in one year.

To boost secondary raw material value, the Italian manufacturing industry has developed and applied new technologies right across sectors, ranging from the production of de-inked pulp to the spinning of plastic scrap, including the productions of panels derived from recovered wood.

The report goes on to say, “Italy enjoys one of Europe's strongest recycling bases. Over the last decade, the system and the supply chain developed and grew despite a stagnating Italian economy, to the point of resisting the economic crisis although several areas are indeed suffering because of the recent and continuing recession.”

According to the report, strengthening recycling is important to become a “competitive low-carbon economy by 2050,” but also to ensure that once emerging countries start recycling their own waste, Italy and the EU will be able to “cope with the international evolutionary process.”

Currently household waste production in urban areas of China, for example, is estimated at 160 million tonnes (based on 2010 data) while industrial waste production is estimated at 2,400 million tonnes.

As waste generation increases not only in China, but also in India or Brazil, its management is expected to become more and more effective and will provide material for recycling.

“The international demand for secondary raw materials is doomed to decrease, particularly for low-quality ones,” says the report.

Italy and the EU need to develop their ability to absorb secondary raw materials within their national and continental markets, the report says, adding, “Recycling is, in fact, one of the most dynamic components of the green economy at European level,” it argues, pointing out that the turnover produced by recycling the main recyclables (glass, paper, plastic, ferrous metals, copper and aluminium, precious metals and other metals, has almost doubled between 2004 and 2008 when it stood at €60.3 billion.

Currently, however, Italy remains a net importer of secondary raw materials with 7.5 million tonnes imported in 2010 against 2.5 million tonnes of exports. There is therefore room for improvement and the report states that Italy recognises that a strong international secondary materials market is a prerequisite to maintaining high waste collection and recovery targets both for Europe generally and for the country itself.

Roberto de Santis, the President of CONAI, Italy's National Packaging Consortium, explained that 6.9 tonnes per annum out of a total of 32 million of household waste produced was packaging waste.
In terms of recovery it is estimated that in Italy three quarters comes from household sources. As to the amount of packaging waste being sent to landfill in 2011, this amounted to 26 per cent, up from 25.3 per cent in 2010.
However, de Santis pointed out that the emphasis was now on waste prevention so that in future even if the proportion plateaus the tonnage sent to landfill will decline. Indeed, with the opening of several new incineration facilities, albeit mainly in northern Italy, the amount of waste generally sent to landfill will decline.
In terms of specific waste streams, the report showed that for iron and steel, while the industry recorded a decline in absolute recycling, the recycling rate grew from 77 per cent before the crisis to 89 per cent in 2009 to settle at 79 per cent in 2010.
Primary aluminium production fell by 30 per cent between 2008 and 2010 versus 5 per cent for secondary aluminium. The separate collection and recycling of aluminium packaging in the two year period grew by 20 per cent and totalled a record recycling rate of 72.4 per cent of packaging consumption in 2010.
Separate plastic packaging collection continued to increase in 2009 and 2010 despite the decline in apparent consumption.
For paper, the production decline also affected secondary materials consumption and a moderate increase in recycling rates to approximately 60 per cent -and 80 per cent for packaging alone, was not enough to absorb the high collection rates.

Boosting the Italian recycling industry
The report identified four lines of action to boost the development of the Italian recycling industry. These are:
  • Supporting the development of an effective recycled product market through green procurement particularly as “recycled products, while offering identical performance levels, and are not more costly than similar products produced with virgin material.” This change of direction therefore needs a cultural and regulatory effort rather than an economic one. A previous attempt, in 2003, to force the public sector to purchase recycled products failed. It is hoped a more recent decree (2008) on the issue will be more successful. In addition, another set of measures aimed at promoting recycled materials has been set up: ranging from the Remade in Italy label which certifies that a material or product is indeed produced in Italy with recycled material, up to the Second Life plastics label to certify all of those manufactured goods for which the producer warranties material identity, traceability and minimum recycled content from post-consumption waste material. “To reinforce the national market and allow for the national recycling industry to grow at least as much as its foreign competitors this area necessitates continued support at public policy level. Green procurement incentive measures are also useful in more classical sectors such as metals, plastics, glass, wood, but are absolutely essential to support the development of new areas of recycling, as in the case of the building waste and minerals waste stream, or for the treatment of inert scrap industrial refuse materials.”
  • Correcting a number of distortions and abnormalities when it comes to access to energy recovery. “For most materials considered here, recycling offers the only opportunity to reuse the material [this is the case for metals and for glass] and, in most cases, provides the best environmental and economic opportunity,” states the report therefore urging for an end to subsidies for renewable energy sources for electric or thermal production as well as more flexibility on the definitions of recycling criteria “that seriously hamper the possibility for non-recyclable secondary raw materials to be used for energy recovery in both an environmentally and economically sensible manner.” The report calls for the creation of a “true” market for “high-quality” alternative waste-derived fuels to substitute fossil fuels in “high consuming systems” for the materials that the recycling industry still cannot absorb or “aimed at generating electric and/or thermal power for completely biodegradable residues, wherever such use provides a greater, or at least comparable, environmental benefit as a result of optimised transport for subsequent recovery.”
  • Improving the quality of recovered secondary raw materials, in particular, for those originating from post-consumer collection circuits. “This means achieving the integration of collection systems with selection and recovery plants and the recycling industry. The emphasis put on achieving objectives set as percentages of recovered materials through collection, rather than accounting for actual quantities of materials collected for recycling, as originally prescribed by European waste regulations, may have a perverse effect and lead to low-quality collection and lack of focus on recovered material quality. More efficient collection procedures are needed. Procedures that pay greater attention to quality achieved through integration with material recovery plants and, perhaps, through the conversion of numerous mechanical and biological treatment plants that are, today, of uncertain usefulness.” The further development of the recycled material market, both at national and at international level, requires that the quality of secondary raw materials be improved. This issue raises a number of further issues linked to existing system bottlenecks, such as those due to methods and costs stemming from waste sludge treatment and landfilling.
  • Research and innovation. New recycling technologies are “essential” to progress towards the green economy, to improve the efficiency of the use of natural resources, and increase market competitiveness. New technologies are also essential to improve capacity to select recovered materials [such as the technologies based on NIR sensors for plastics] to foster the use of previously discarded wastes [as happened with precious metals extracted from electronic wastes and recovered from incineration slag] or to allow for new recycled material applications [as in de-inking wastepaper for secondary pulp]. Opportunities appear in a variety of fields. For example, in rare metal recycling which is one of the most sensitive development areas, where specialised companies are being set up “elsewhere in Europe” or outside the EU. These metals (gallium, germanium and indium) play a key role in the production of micro electronics and renewable energy.
According to the report, “research shows that the availability of such materials could become a bottleneck for European economic development and for the development of other advanced economies since commercially useful reserves are both very limited and highly concentrated in China and a few other countries.” According to predictions, the demand for some of these metals by 2030 is 2 or 4 times as high as 2006 production levels.

Today, rates of recycling are extremely low as is recovery from waste, which for the most part have a very short life-cycle. Since these precious metals generally appear in very limited concentrations, simply increasing the collection of electronic and electrical goods is not enough, unless the appropriate extraction and recycling techniques are developed.

“The further development of industrial recycling potential requires investments in research and innovation. This raises, for the Italian industrial system, an all too well known issue,” the report makes clear.

“For the recycling industry, as for other Italian industries, access to research and innovation is particularly difficult, although it remains essential and relevant to tackle international competition. Furthermore, recycling is the only remaining component of the otherwise longstanding know-how and tradition accumulated in the steel, metals and paper industries. The conservation of such a heritage should represent a strategic objective, even if only to maintain a certain economic and political autonomy.”

For more information
To read the study, go to http://www.ricicloecoefficiente.it/Executive%20Summary_RicicloEcoeff_2012.pdf
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