Biorepack: “A positive development for the public, the environment and companies”
Two years ahead of the rest of the EU, Italy introduces mandatory separate collection of food waste, also including biodegradable and compostable plastics. Marco Versari (Biorepack President): “Increased collection rates for food waste, due in part to the increase in compostable materials, is essential to produce more compost that returns organic matter to the soil, thereby counteracting climate change.”
Milan, 29 December 2021 - For once the news is positive and everyone wins: the public will win, as more waste will be fed back into the circular economy rather than going to landfill. A virtuous industrial sector will win, as it can become stronger and improve its existing competitive advantage over its international competitors. Above all, the climate and the soil will win because this new development will help restore organic matter to the soil, thereby curbing soil degradation and the release of CO2 into the atmosphere.
From 1 January 2022, separate collection of food waste will become mandatory in all Italian municipalities. In other words: organic waste will have to be separated from other types of waste. And EN 13432-certified biodegradable and compostable plastic packaging must also be collected along with food waste for transformation into compost. Particularly carrier bags made from bioplastic. But also fruit and vegetable packaging, plates, glasses and disposable tableware made of compostable material. This is required by Article 182-ter of Legislative Decree 152/2006, which incorporates European Directive 2018/851 on waste into Italian law.
This requirement comes into force fully two years before a similar commitment due to be introduced across the rest of the EU at the beginning of 2024. The regulation requires Italian municipalities to set up a separate collection service for food waste to be implemented using reusable containers or compostable bags made from materials certified to UNI EN 13432-2002.
“The regulation introduced by the European directive, and already implemented in Italy, is excellent news for anyone who cares about the correct sustainable management of post-consumer materials,” explained Enzo Favoino, researcher at the Parco di Monza Agricultural School and Coordinator of the Zero Waste Europe Scientific Committee. “Collection of organic waste is crucial because it makes an essential contribution to maximising separate waste collection rates. Without organic waste we would not have been able to reach the 65% separate waste collection rate achieved by Italy. Furthermore, by correctly separating out organic waste we reduce fermentation in unsorted residual waste that cannot be recycled. This allows municipalities to make collections less often, which not only reduces overall collection costs, but also encourages individuals to improve separation of other recyclable materials.”
In this respect there is a clear benefit to the community. But the positive environmental contribution of increased compost production should not be underestimated; Italy sits towards the top of the European league table (our composting system has a capacity of over 7 million tonnes, second only to Germany). At present, 80% of the population is connected to the organic waste collection system. The new requirement will make it possible to extend coverage to 100%.
“From an agronomic perspective, separating organic matter from other waste is important to return living, fertile matter to the soil,” said Favoino. “Soil fertility essentially depends on the presence of organic matter. It is no coincidence that soil scientists speak of a ‘pre-desertification state’ when organic matter content in soils becomes excessively depleted. By restoring organic matter to the soil, we enhance fertility in all respects: from water retention capacity, to the activities of soil microorganisms, to the availability of nutrients.”
This ‘restoration’ of organic matter not only benefits agricultural productivity and plant health but also helps the fight against climate change and global warming. Organic matter is essentially composed of carbon. Carbon in the soil provides fertility as the main constituent of organic matter, while in the atmosphere, as CO2, it is one of the main causes of the greenhouse effect. Soil is the second largest carbon store on the planet after the oceans. “If we have more carbon in the soil, we will have less carbon in the atmosphere, where it has negative effects such as global warming,” explained Favoino.
It is therefore clear that the more compost is produced and distributed in the soil, the more effective our fight against climate change will be. Compostable bioplastics can also play a part in this process, when they are correctly disposed of together with organic matter. “We should always remember to use compostable bioplastics to collect organic waste,” said Marco Versari, president of Biorepack. “Biodegradable and compostable carrier bags have helped make Italy the European country with the highest organic waste collection. Along with food waste, carrier bags, coffee pods made of compostable material and new packaging must now be disposed of with organic waste. This all helps further increase collection rates.”
And that’s not all: when items such as compostable bags are used correctly to collect food waste and disposed of with that waste, this also improves the quality of collection and reduces plastic contaminants in the soil. “It is essential to avoid using conventional plastic bags to collect food waste,” warned Favoino, “because plastic becomes a contaminant that disintegrates and ends up entering the food chain in the form of microplastics. We must use certified-compostable plastic bags. Fortunately for 20 years we have had a European reference standard and we must continue to publicise it and use it.”
In order to support separate collection and achieve organic recycling targets, in 2020 Biorepack was established, the supply chain consortium within the CONAI system dedicated to compostable bioplastic packaging, the first of its kind in Europe. “Biorepack must ensure that compostable packaging is collected together with food waste, which helps improve the quality of the waste collected,” explained Versari. “Biorepack recently signed an agreement with ANCI, under which Italian municipalities receive financial compensation for organising the separate collection, transport and processing of compostable bioplastic packaging waste. In doing so, we are not only providing benefits to our fellow citizens, but we are also ensuring the development of a sustainable industry, which manufactures products from compostable bioplastics and achieves internationally recognised levels of excellence.”
“The choice made first by the European Parliament and then by the government in implementing the circular economy package was neither accidental nor ill-advised,” explained Ilaria Fontana, Undersecretary of State at the Ministry of Ecological Transition. “It is an assumption of responsibility made after years of successful management of organic waste in our country, which has long had the capacity to transform waste (which can have a significant impact on the environment, ambient odours and climate change) into an important opportunity for the protection of our environmental compartments and for ecological transition. We must consider this move to mandatory collection of organic waste throughout the country not only from the perspective of recycling but also the bioeconomy, namely a systemic vision in which a primary commodity such as our food or green waste from our gardens is transformed through composting to put organic matter back into soils impoverished by intensive use by humans combined with ongoing climate change. The objective is to have greater soil fertility and lower atmospheric CO2 emissions (as the carbon is stored in the soil through compost) while at the same time creating the conditions for that soil to regenerate food crops or, in marginal territories, crops that can grow in arid or contaminated soils for use in making bio-based products without the need for fossil fuels. Once consumed, food or organic products will follow the same circular trajectory at their end of life.”
Biorepack is a consortium in the CONAI system dedicated to the end-of-life management of UNI EN 13432-certified biodegradable and compostable plastic packaging, which can be collected and recycled along with organic waste (Article 182-ter of the Environmental Code – Legislative Decree 152/2006) and transformed into compost through a specific industrial process. It was established in Rome on 26 November 2018 by six of Italy’s leading bioplastics producers and processors, and its statute was approved on 16 October 2020 by a decree of the Minister of the Environment together with the Minister of Economic Development.
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