Recycling in Italy: record figures in 2020
In 2020, packaging recycling rates in Italy exceeded all forecasts. The health emergency did not slow down the development of this area of the circular economy: last year 73% of the packaging placed on the market was recycled, that is 3.3% more than in 2019. These figures were disclosed by the Conai (Italian packaging consortium) on the presentation of the general report published by the consortium.
"It's a record. The highest recycling rate that our country has ever known. Our first estimates, at the beginning of the year, indicated 71%, and some of us considered these estimates too optimistic for a difficult year like 2020. Instead, the forecasts turned out to be even too cautious", commented Luca Ruini (picture in the middle), the president of Conai.
More than 9.5 million tons of packaging were recycled out of the total of 13 million tons introduced onto the market. The latter figure, as already announced last March, fell by more than 4% in 2020 compared to 2019 due to the exclusion of the packaging for commercial and industrial applications. However, the recycling volumes have not declined thanks to the increase in the separate collection of urban waste, which has been the driving force that has not suffered from the difficulties following the lockdown and the various restrictions.
In detail, 371,000 tons of steel, 47,400 tons of aluminum, 4.048 million tons of paper, 1.873 million tons of wood, 1.076 million tons of plastic, 2.143 million tons of glass have found a second life. When adding the energy recovery figures, the total volume of packaging avoiding the landfill has further grown reaching 83.7%. Almost 11 million tons in total.
"Conai's figures are very important, as they make us understand that we are going the right direction. In the sphere of packaging recycling, Italy confirms its leadership by achieving the EU target four years in advance; the South of Italy is growing almost as much as the North and this growth will be further supported by the investments in Italy’s Recovery and Resilience Plan (PNRR). The achievement of these targets will make it possible to reward the municipalities with funds destined for reducing local tariffs, for the benefit of citizens. All this also tells us that the Conai system is a winning model. I thank President Ruini for his competence, his institutional sensitivity and the dedication that have allowed us to achieve these targets", stated Laura D'Aprile, head of the ecological transition and green investments department of Italy’s Ministry for Ecological Transition.
In a year heavily conditioned by the pandemic, the contribution of the Conai system to Italy’s recycling results is growing: in 2020 the consortium collected 52% of the packaging sent for recycling (50.2% in 2019). "Another demonstration of the market support role that the Consortium has been playing for more than twenty years. It is when the market suffers - as it happened last year with the beginning of the Covid emergency and the lockdown - that Conai must assist the market with its wider margins of intervention, in order to ensure the necessary continuity in the withdrawal of materials from separate collection because the market itself has no interest in doing so", Ruini said.
In this picture of an increasingly virtuous Italy, the work carried out by Conai with local authorities has played a fundamental role, thanks to the agreement with the association of Italian municipalities (ANCI). In 2020, over 7,400 Italian municipalities have signed agreements with Conai, thus entrusting the packaging waste obtained from separate collection flows to the consortium, reaching 97% of the Italian population. To cover the higher costs that municipalities incur in collecting waste separately, in 2020 Conai awarded 654 million euros, while 452 million were allocated to finance treatment, recycling and recovery activities.
"These resources come from Conai member companies. They are the ones who bear the costs incurred in the end-of-life management of the packaging they originally placed on the market. So that, when it becomes waste, that packaging does not end up in landfills with a huge environmental impact. The 654 million euros transferred to Italian municipalities cover a significant percentage of expenditures for the separate collection of packaging waste, which represents 28% of urban and assimilated waste and 7% of the total waste produced in our country", Ruini explained.
In 2020 the delivery of packaging waste to Conai grew throughout Italy, with slight differences between the geographical macro-areas. This growth was driven by the North of the country, which scores a + 6% of packaging from separate collection entrusted to the consortium system compared to 2019. In total, more than 2.84 million tons. The increase in the Southern regions is almost the same: +5% compared to 2019, overall more than 1.51 million tons, while Central Italy, which is close to 1 million tons, recorded a +4% growth.