Steel: strong and kind

Considering the rates of steel packaging withheld from landfills, the RICREA consortium has achieved excellent results, thanks to an efficient management that wagers a lot on a “noble” material. The words of president Domenico Rinaldini.
Stefano Lavorini

Steel packaging, like the raw material that comprises the same, has a long history. As well as protecting the product and keeping it safe, in can be recycled to infinity without losing its quality. Hence to the consortium RICREA the burden and the honour of fully exploiting its potential…

As member of the Board you have actively taken part in the life of the consortium, practically since it was founded. A long history...
I come from the world of industrial packaging. Over the last twenty years I have worked - and partially continue to work - for a company that produces steel drums. Already between ’94 and ’96, we had anticipated the model that enjoyed success on a national scale in ’97. In actual fact, we formed a sort of consortium between industrial packaging producers, called Fusteco, to organize the collection, reuse and recycling of steel drums.
This association having been dissolved, I entered onto the board of directors of the consortium RICREA, that had just been  founded, that at that time was called CNA. Hence, not only do I know it well, but I have been working there for 20 years and the experience I gained there is surely important.

Is acting as president different?
Certainly. All the same, the fact that the consortium is very united - at least in these twenty years we have always managed to find points of consensus and common objectives - makes performing my present position easy.

How much do you represent the sector?
Generally speaking, most producers of steel for packaging are consortium members. At any rate, all of them are consortium associates. As far as raw materials are concerned, meaning steelworks, the Italian leader Ilva is with us, as well as the other producers and importers. That is to say, the sector supply chain is well represented, with nearly all the actors. Many companies adhere by law, as well as voluntarily. And indeed, according to the law, in Italy packaging producers have two possibilities: either they join the consortium, and hence the CONAI system, or they take on the responsibility of organizing the collection, the reuse and recycling of used packaging of on their own. It is a task that is difficult to accomplish, because you have to organize a network capable of managing recycling right across the country. Which is indeed complex….

How is the activity of the consortium structured?
The starting point is the agreement with the municipalities stipulated by CONAI and ANCI, to which the local administrations adhere on a voluntary basis: and the activities of segregated collection are entrusted to the municipalities or their delegates, but the Consortium takes on the greater burden.
A part of the costs are covered by buying and exploiting the material, which is sold directly to the steelworks or, in many cases, to the recyclers themselves via auction who then see to the subsequent sale of the material.
The CONAI environmental contribution paid by the producers contributes to covering around half the costs: in fact, today it totals 13 euros/ton, while, on the basis of existing agreements, for the raw material collected in the first quality segment, the municipalities receive 90 to 95 euros/ton.
The difference derives from the profits made from the exploitation of the same. The commitment involved in this direction can be seen by the figures. We have had excellent results that have allowed us to earn more from the sale of the material, and hence contain the CAC.

In the case of plastic, the principle of differentiating the contribution based on recyclability has been introduced. What do you think of that?
You can’t fault the underlying concept: the material that is recycled more easily pays less than what is more difficult to recycle, as laid down by the law.

What are the objectives of the Consortium today? And what are the most interesting results you have achieved?
One should start by saying: the CONAI system works well, not only because it has achieved excellent results but also because its own regulatory structure allows efficient and cost-effective management of the activities.
Suffice it to say that at the beginning of this “enterprise” the recycling rate of steel packaging placed on the market was around 15-19%, while last year we reached 77.5%.
It is an outstanding result, made possible thanks to the work done to improve the exploitation of the material.
The second  success factor is the specific property of steel which, as is said, is a “permanent material”, recyclable to infinity. Once collected, suitably worked and exploited, it is sent back to the steel mill and returns to being top quality material, where maybe, instead of being used for packaging, it can be used to produce other things, i.e. rails, rebars for reinforced concrete, trusses, etc. To this day, we have already largely exceeded the objectives of the law. The challenge for the future will be to reach the minimum threshold of 80%, which will be mandated by the next European directive currently under discussion.

Is the way ahead that of technological innovation, that will enable greater reuse?
More than anything, the efficiency of the collection system needs to be improved. In this case this is very much where we come in. We expect - and we are working hard on this - that segregated collection increases in some regions, particularly in southern Italy, where rates are still very low. If these areas were to reach the same levels as the north, the target would already be reached.

It is necessary, however, to recognize that good results have already been achieved in the south, for example in Naples and Campania. In Rome, we are still waiting for them. At any case, we have activated streams that work, albeit involving low A greater public awareness would play an important role: are you working in that direction?
As RICREA, our goal is to invest more on communication to inform the public about the quality of steel and why it needs to be properly segregated.
For this reason, in addition to the work of the technical area, which includes conventions and agreements with municipalities, we are planning awareness campaigns that help to improve not only the quantity but also the quality of packaging waste and its “cleaning”, understood as proper separation during disposal. In fact, it is the quality of the collected material that facilitates its exploitation, enabling an increase in revenue and hence containing one’s costs.

Among other things, in collaboration with producers’ associations, we are defining the application of a trademark to be affixed to steel packaging, which also refers to the specific quality of “permanent” raw material.
The aim is twofold: to improve its recognisability for segregated collection, but above all to promote its sustainability. An information campaign will explain to users that steel packaging is a friend of the environment and contributes to achieving that circular economy which we hear so much about. Hence supermarket customers will be able to make a conscious choice.
Finally, we are also working hard on research, linking up with some universities, to launch studies aimed at improving the the technology associated with recycling.
Will you continue with your work of awareness raising among young people?
After the initiative of SteelAmico, we have been thinking of extending educational campaigns up to a national level, addressing not only primary schools with the “Ambarabà RICICLOclò” format and the media with “Riciclik”, but also higher education and the universities with “Steel Life”.

How important is the work on the ground?
Very important. That is why, starting this year, we have focused a lot on local events that allow the public direct relations with actors who, in their respective geographic areas, are involved with the recovery of the packaging. This is the case of “Capitan Steel”, an initiative that we have brought to the piazzas of Italy’s regional capitals (Lecce, Naples, Trieste, etc …) to demonstrate how the daily effort of placing packaging in the right container starts a virtuous cycle in involving concrete and recognizable subjects: the company responsible for collection, which is wellknown, the steel mill to which the recovered material will be sold, which is local, the RICREA operators, who are committed up front.
It is necessary, in short, to make it clear to the public that there is a real chain, thanks to which the tin can, starting out from the waste collection basket, takes on a new life. This gives them greater awareness, mindfulness and more motivation.

In fact, consumers are often led to believe that it is all a farce; they fear that what has been segregated is then just lumped back together, also because perhaps they aren’t aware of the benefits in economic terms. But who knows how high the tax on waste would be without the work of the consortiums ...
The CONAI system annually finances the work of municipalities with about 450 million. The exploitation of the material allows us to increase revenues and reduce the environmental contribution, which would otherwise be much more burdensome. In Italy consumers do not have enough perception of how the Italian system represents an excellence and a virtuous example, not only in Italy but in Europe as well.

What are the novelties in terms of governance?
There has been a problem with the statute, that has now been overcome. After the ministry has clarified what the “consortium” type of statute is, we are planning to convene an extraordinary meeting for the approval of the new rules by this autumn, in compliance with the legal provisions that should come into force next year.

What will change?
I don’t foresee any big changes. The only new feature is the representation of recyclers. In fact, the statute approved by the ministry provides for the possibility that they are present in equal numbers with respect to raw material producers, but only with the agreement of the other consortium members.
It should be noted that in these years we have achieved excellent results thanks to the transparent, active and helpful collaboration with the recyclers. While clearly interests in some cases may be conflicting, the results show that we have worked well together. So if this climate of common intent remains, I can’t see why the assembly wouldn’t welcome them.


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