Plastic, Italy well in half.  Now the country is at a crossroads between bioplastic and recycling –

Plastic, Italy well in half. Now the country is at a crossroads between bioplastic and recycling –

from Paul Riva

We are almost the worst consumers in Europe with a quintal each a year. But, according to the di Ecco and Conai, we are leaders in the collection. The economic lever: tax on disposables, campaign on returnable bottles

We almost reach 100. We are not talking about pensions, but about plastic. In Italy in 2020 we consumed about ninety-nine kilograms per person. In total they are almost six million tons, used above all for packaging (42 per cent of the total) and, to a lesser extent, for the building and automotive sectors. Our country – explains Giulia Novati of the think tank Ecco – the second largest consumer in Europe. And not a good placement, considering that this material generates a large amount of greenhouse gaseswhich exacerbate the climate crisis.

This happens because, on the one hand, the raw materials most used to obtain plastic are oil and gas and, on the other, because it is often used energy from fossil fuels. The production process, consumption and end of life of plastic contribute to climate change, but also to the pollution of many marine and terrestrial ecosystems, adds Novati. For this, Ecco has presented proposals for reduce consumption, grow the use of bioplastics and increase recycling and reuse rates. And the good news is that the margins for cutting emissions are very wide, up to a potential of minus 98 percent achievable in 2050. To do this, however, there are various political choices to be made.

The think tank proposes the ban on the sale of fruit and vegetables in plastic packaging, the obligation for local administrations to promote the installation of drinking water sources in public spaces, the prohibition of the use of disposable tableware for on-site consumption in bars and restaurants. And then he asks for the implementation of two already approved measures. The first the so-called plastic tax, which taxes single-use plastic products. Voted in 2020, it never came into force because it was always postponed. The new government should also do so, according to the statements of some of its representatives. The logic would be not to penalize final consumers, but in the meantime Italy, from 2021, must still pay around 800 million euros a year to the EU for the European plastic tax.

The second important measure, according to Ecco, the implementation of bail deposit system (Deposit return system – Drs) indicated in the Simplification bis decree of July 2021. Although it was scheduled for November of the same year, the implementing decree to create the new system is still missing, which concerns containers for plastic, glass and metal drinks. The decree refers only to reuse, but in our opinion the system should also concern recycling, continues Novati.

Pay a small amount as security to those who return the voids a consolidated practice in many EU countries. And it has several benefits. Plastic is not just one material. There are many different types of polymers, explains Mario Grosso, professor of solid waste management and treatment at the Milan Polytechnic. Not said that the Drs lead to a less use of plastics in general, but to a lower production of virgin plastic from petroleum, yes. Not only.

Having kept the plastic parts separate allows for a higher quality recycling. A bottle, just to give an example, can be recycled into a new bottle, in a defined closed-cycle process, which is always preferable, observes Gaia Brussa, a researcher who works with Grosso. Furthermore she – he adds – the economic leverage improves the collection rate, which in European countries with DRS systems stands at over eighty per cent. In Italy, according to Unesda, the collection rate for PET containers is 46 percent. According to several organizations, such as those gathered in the campaign Well donethis is one of the data for which it would be important to implement the new deposit system. For other realities, however, it would be better to think about how to improve the current system.

This year the system turns 25 Conai, the national packaging consortium, which guaranteed our country rates of recycling among the best in Europe. Italy has a model based on the Municipalities that carry out separate waste collection and on the consortia that initiate recycling, explains the president of Conai Luca Ruini: This model gives us a competitive advantage. The question then: do I change it? Or do I keep it and integrate it with new tools to achieve European goals?. Conai leans towards the second option and, instead of the deposit system, focuses on selective collection and eco-compactors for PET bottles.

The current system is based on a very delicate balance between valuable polymers (such as those of bottles and flasks) and mixed ones. The former represent a revenue and keep the system on its feet, the latter, which are about 50 percent, have little value or are even a cost, resumes Grosso of the Polytechnic. If with the Drs we remove the most valuable components from this system, it risks going into crisis, concludes the teacher. The choice, in his opinion, between a more conservative approach and one that proposes important innovations. It will be up to the new government to decide which one to keep.

November 24, 2022 (change November 24, 2022 | 15:08)

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