Package recycling: new scenarios after twenty years of CONAI?

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The Antitrust and recycling operators complain about the lack of competition. The issue was discussed in a conference promoted by FISE UNIRE and GMR.

Wood, plastic, glass, steel, aluminium, paper, cardboard. These are the ingredients of packaging, the products that cover and protect the items we buy. Over the last twenty years, the collection and recycling of packaging materials has been carried out by CONAI, a consortium divided into several bodies for each product chain. What will happen tomorrow? This was the main topic of discussion at the conference “Reflections upon the packaging market and management system” organized in Rome by FISE UNIRE – Union of Recovery Enterprises – and GMR – Group of Recyclable Materials, in collaboration with UNIRIMA (National Union of Recovery, Recycling, and Pulping Enterprises). The goal was to develop solutions for a reform of the packaging collection and recycling system, in order to increase its efficiency and its effectiveness.

Private operators, and in particular recovery and recycling platforms – says FISE UNIRE – make up the network that concretely provides the CONAI recycling services to municipalities and citizens. These organizations also work privately on the free market outside of the consortium system at the service of enterprises and municipalities. In this case, they don’t receive any financial support by CONAI.

Their activity – say the organizers of the conference – contributes to the achievement of the recovery and recycling targets set by the law, which are annually registered by CONAI.

In 2015, the data concerning waste packaging sent for recycling was quite positive: over 8.2 million tons of waste were recycled, tracing a growth curve for the 2016-2018 period. In 2018, the ratio between recycled waste and produced packaging is expected to jump up to 68.7% (the current rate is 66%), while about 11.8% is expected to be sent for waste-to-energy processing (CONAI data).

However, the organizers of the conference point out that the consortium managed only about half of the waste treated in 2016 (about 49%, the equivalent of 3,993 tons, against an amount of 1,000 tons in 1998). The remaining 51% was treated by the independent operators (4,179 tons in 2016, slightly more than the 4,000 tons managed in 1998). A comparison between the amounts managed by the two systems (CONAI and extra-CONAI) shows that since the birth of the consortium there has been no significant variation in the amount of waste managed on the free market. At the same time, the market share of extra-CONAI operators gradually decreased in favour of the consortium system.

The growth of CONAI, explains FISE UNIRE, is partially due to the introduction and development of urban waste sorting. However, part of its growth is also due to the acquisition of large portions of free market, in particular the management of special waste from manufacturing activities: this sector, which used to belong to the free market, was assimilated to urban waste and subsequently assigned to municipalities.

In this scenario, several critical points have been identified by the private operators collaborating with the consortium and by the public authorities that monitor CONAI’s activity. Among them, the Antitrust authority repeatedly pointed out the absence of competition in this sector and the need for a revision of the CONAI system.

“The extended producer responsibility is a principle worth preserving, as it has contributed to the achievement of remarkable recycling goals, also thanks to the increase of waste collection and a greater awareness of citizens and enterprises – said Anselmo Calò, president of FISE UNIRE – However, we need to acknowledge that CONAI and the other consortia should only play a subsidiary role in the market, without abusing their position, as it happens in some recycling chains: they should rather conciliate their role with the presence of private operators, in particular recovery enterprises. Moreover, it is crucial to guarantee the dialogue and the participation of all subjects in the policy making of the consortia, given the high public relevance of their activity and the importance of recycling operators for the achievement of the system’s goals”.

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