Italy, higher recycling but low exports

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Report by FISE Unire and Foundation for a Sustainable Development: increase by +2% of packaging, WEEE and PFU recycling in 2014.

A growing sector with a significantly high export rate: this is the economy of recycling, an economy that allows Italy to create new raw materials instead of importing them, but still has to bear the onerous costs of exporting abroad large amounts of waste (often hazardous waste).

This is the scenario described by the annual study “L’Italia del Riciclo” (“Recycling Italy”), which is supported and carried out by FISE Unire (an association within the industrial union Confindustria that represents waste recycling companies), and by the Foundation for a Sustainable Development (“Fondazione per lo Sviluppo Sostenibile”).

In 2014, the recycling of packaging was marked by an overall increase (+2% in absolute terms), a sign of this sector’s strength, in spite of the numerous difficulties brought about by the current economic situation: 7,808 million tons were recycled, against 7,642 in 2013 and 7,562 in 2012.

This increase is well visible in all branches, with particularly good results in the recycling of paper (80%), steel (74%), aluminum (74%) and glass (70%), while the most significant increase is to be observed in the recycling of wood (+10%, from 1.4 million tons to 1.539 million tons).

Other branches as well show positive results: the collection of organic waste through waste sorting now amounts to 5.7 million tons, an increase by 9.5% compared to 2013. The collection of electric and electronic waste (WEEE) increased by 3% compared to 2013, which means a national quota of 3.81 kg per capita, just below the 4% target set for 2015 (however, the target for the next three years will be about three times as high). The reuse and recycle rate of end-of-life vehicles is as high as 80.3%, very close to the EU targets, while the energy recovery rate is still too low. Recycling functions quite well also in the field of tires, with 129,000 tons of material recycled, and in the field of textile waste, with an increase by 12% (124,000 tons).

“This report shows that the sector of recycling in Italy managed to remain active and productive in spite of the long recession – declared Anselmo Calò, the President of UNIRE – Recycling plays a fundamental role in the challenge to accomplish the ambitious targets against climate change we just agreed upon in Paris, as it allows to save energy for the production of raw materials, avoiding further carbon emissions. To this purpose we need to discourage landfill dumping and improve the quality of the material we collect, and also to rationalize and simplify the normative framework. Also considering the recent discussions about the new circular economy package, we need to overcome all ambiguity and conflict points among different normative systems, so as to ease the recycling of materials that don’t imply any significant environmental risk.”

“Recycling in Italy is not homogeneous, because a few regions are still behind, but in general the system has taken off and can compete with European standards – says Edo Ronchi, the President of the Foundation for a Sustainable Development – However, the modifications of all directives on waste proposed by the European Commission and the new, challenging recycling targets set for 2025 and 2030 require a further effort to improve the least advanced areas, increase and perfect the waste sorting system, and strengthen the industrialization and innovation in this sector.”

In addition to studying in depth the dynamics of the various branches of the recycling sector, this edition of the yearly report focuses on waste import ad export. In 2014, almost 10 million tons of municipal and industrial waste crossed the Italian borders: 5.9 million tons were imported, 3.8 were exported.

77% of the imported waste consists of metal, mainly ferrous metal, followed by wood (11% of the import total). Plastics and paper make up 24% of the exported waste, while the main portion of the exported material (about 60%) does not fall under any of the traditional sectors and is marked by a high presence of hazardous waste. Almost all of the imported waste is processed for material recovery, while only 70% of the exported waste is recycled. Between 2009 and 2014 the import of waste increased by 60%, while the export increased by 10%.

A comparison between import and export reveals that 450,000 tons of imported waste (about 8% of the material imported in Italy for treatment) are identical by volume and typology to the Italian waste which is exported abroad, often with exorbitant costs.

Click here to download the report.

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