Toward a more ethical Italy…

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Efficient management of separate collection and recycling of packaging is a challenge, material and cultural, which our country has managed to respond to with success. How much has been accomplished in Italy to date? What are the prospects, the criticalities, and the tools that should be adopted to overcome them? We asked Giorgio Quagliuolo, president of CONAI.  Stefano Lavorini

In order to reach the recycling and recovery targets set by Italian and European legislation, the end-of-life management of packaging requires a synergic commitment by various actors. This is why CONAI’s consortium model is founded on the principle of shared responsibility, involving the participation of the concerns that produce and use packaging as well as citizens, who are tasked with the daily responsibility of making conscientious consumption choices and, most importantly, properly sorting waste materials.

A fundamental role is also played by government as it regulates such activities, ensuring that they are properly performed (coordination with municipal governments is regulated by the ANCI-CONAI framework agreement).

web_Giorgio-Quagliuolo-presidente-CONAI_1.pngAs president of the National Packaging Consortium, Giorgio Quagliuolo acts as a protagonist in this complex panorama. He explains where Italy currently stands.

You’ve been serving as CONAI president for just a few months now, but you spent a lot of time at Corepla. In your opinion, what are the most important targets reached by the CONAI system in recent years, and what goals still need working toward?
The Consortium has achieved very significant results in terms of collection and recovery of packaging in many parts of the country. For the future, the challenge will be to bring the same levels of excellence to those regions like the center and south that are still lagging behind top performers like Veneto.
Furthermore, in order to reach the targets set by the new European Directive, we must certainly focus a lot on developing new recycling technologies, as the standards set a very high bar indeed.

What tools will help bolster separate collection?
We have developed an efficient model for separate collection and are providing support to those municipalities that need it in planning and startup of new separate collection systems in the territory. This practice needs to also be extended to the cultural dimension.
However, it is clear that wherever a corresponding commitment on the part of public institutions and politicians is lacking, it is more difficult to carry things out properly. Unfortunately, certain local governments, whether for incompetence or fear of who knows what, are not guaranteeing adequate support.
We can’t go it alone. We need their cooperation. The political arena needs to do its part.

In this sense, is the ANCI-CONAI agreement working? Might it be improved somehow?
The agreement works, even though it can of course be improved upon, like all things. With now have a long history of cooperation with ANCI that has been decisive to the results achieved, but the problem, here too, is that not all local governments implement adequate separate collection systems. There are some that lack the political will to move in this direction. It is therefore necessary to find a tool capable of ensuring that everyone follows proper ethical practices.

So every municipal government behaves somewhat independently... Might regulatory legislation be the answer?
Of course, effective regulatory action would be an excellent outcome, even though substantial regulation in this area already exists, providing for the separate collection of no less than 65% of refuse.
However, the point remains that, in order to apply the norm, there is also a need for controls, sanctions and all those tools that oblige delinquent actors to comply.

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The next European targets call for quickly reaching very high levels of recovery. In Italy the current situation varies remarkably according to packaging material: excellent for steel, but much worse in other categories, such as plastics.
Right. That’s why the targets take into account the specific situation of each material. As one example, glass is 100% recyclable, while large quantities of plastic unfortunately are not, even with the latest technologies. A satisfactory outcome for plastic might be around 55%; imposing a rule to recycle 70% of plastic on the market would be neither realistic nor sensible.

For this very reason, the differentiated contribution for plastic packaging has recently been introduced.
This project was designed to incentivize concerns to adopt more recyclable packaging. The new differentiated contribution aims to reward the commitment of concerns in designing and using more environmentally sustainable packaging and packaging in line with the principles of circular economy.

It will be modulated on the basis of three fundamental criteria: the selectionability of the packaging after recycling, effective recyclability with current technology and the destination circuit (domestic or commercial/industrial).
Respecting the wishes of concerns, however, for now the initital phase is being implemented gradually, and will only take effect starting in 2019.

How was this decision arrived at? Was a formal request submitted by the concerns?
The foundations of this decision go way back. I recall having proposed this provision already during my first term as president of Corepla, after which a complex investigation process was carried out in cooperation with packaging user and producer associations.
ANCI (in other words, the politicians) also requested that we proceed in this manner. The reasoning behind the law is based on a common sense principle: those who pollute should pay, and those putting difficult to recycle packaging on the market should pay more.

Can the Consoritum also have the function of stimulating technological research in order to enhance the recyclability of materials?
CONAI has made a significant contribution in this area already and will continue to do so. It is clear, however, that greater efforts in R&D should also be made by concerns in the sector. For its part, CONAI also continues to allocate part of its budget in this direction.

Do you think that the differentiated contribution may come to concern other materials as well?
I believe so, even though it will certainly never affect the most “ethical” materials.
To conclude, we are working on the details in order to achieve better overall results, and this should be the job of everyone.

 

10/04/2017

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