As part of the series on Jobs about Town, I spoke to Stefano Petriglieri who studied in Milan and now works in the waste disposal industry in the recycling sector. Stefano is passionate about his job and gave me a lot of information about the recycling of plastics. His ambition is to work on a European working commission.
This is a real, hands on example of how to apply business acumen to ecology and sustainability.
“You work for a plastic recycling company Co.Re.Pla. How much plastic waste is produced in Italy each year?”
The management of end-of-life packaging plastic which is plastic waste has grown a lot since the increased use of plastics for packaging started to contribute to the increase in household waste in general.
A survey from the Environmental Ministry showed that, from 1998 – 2005 the amounts produced by households across Italy increased by 18% from 26,800,000 tons to 31,700,000 tons. The average growth rate was 2.4% per year.
This 2.4% percent shows that the per capita production of household waste is greater than population growth. The amount of waste production actually changed from 472 kg per person in 1998 to 539 kg per person in 2005 although in that period the population increase was quite modest.
Because the plastic content of household waste is roughly 30% by weight or 50% by volume, total plastic waste follows the same dynamic. In fact in the same period the amount of plastic waste produced across Italy increased by 16% per year from 110,000 tons to 360,000 tons. In 2010 614,000 tons of plastic packaging waste were collected as part of the separated collection.
“That’s a lot of plastic, Stefano. How much of this plastic is collected and recycled in Milan?”
Well, our performance in Milan is quite high. This means that over 59% of packaging plastic collected is recycled, 37% is recovered and the rest is disposed of.
These percentages represent the average value of Co.Re.Pla.’s performance. That means they also refer to Milan’s performance which is roughly 23,000 tons per year (17,6 kg/inhabitant/y).
“Is this the same all over Italy?”
As a matter of fact, Italy is a country with varying collection growth rates. Over 60% of plastic packaging which is binned is sorted in the north of Italy, 15% in the centre and the rest in south. More or less, per person per year we collect 14.5kg in the North, 8.3kg in the Centre and 6.3kg in the South which means a weighted average of 10.4kg in Italy .
“How has the management of plastic waste changed over the years?”
Over the past 20 years a lot of work has been done by legislators who are interested in waste management. Because of the huge amount of plastic being produced, legislators need to have proper regulatory tools and the technology to minimize environmental impact of plastic waste.
This goal could be reached, for instance, through the resourcing and the use of material according to best available recovery techniques for each packaging material or best design practices that represent some possibilities which the regulators take into account. The objective is to make environmental needs a part of policy making so now, environmental matters really play an important role in waste management.
“Can you give an example of one of these regulatory tools?”
Presidential Decree 915/82 was the first legislative tool to regulate waste disposal. This came of the awareness that both quantity and quality of waste follow specific dynamics. It was clear that there was a need to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill.
In later decrees ( “Decreto Ronchi” and “Codice Ambientale”) some new concepts were introduced and developed which had only been touched on by the previous decree. These laid down that the three R’s “reduction”, “recycling” and “recovery” would become an integral part of “management strategy” rather than something to be considered individually.
Decreto Ronchi made the problem of the packaging and its end-of-life handling part of the government’s core politics.
“Is this where your company came from?”
Yes, CONAI and Co.Re.Pla. were established as a result of this.
“What do the acronyms CONAI and Co.Re.Pla stand for?”
CONAI is the National Packaging recovery Consortium. Its management was entrusted by law to its member companies. Its task is to manage the recovery and recycling of packaging in its entirety and to try to reach the recycling and recovery objectives set by European legislation which the Ronchi decree was trying to respect.
The operational management of recovering packaging for each material (glass, steel, aluminum, paper, plastic, wood ) is entrusted to six material consortia, one for each material. This is the “CONAI System” or rather Italian System
Co.Re.Pla. is a no profit private company representing the plastic packaging in the CONAI system. Co.Re.Pla, among its other duties, takes care of the handling of residual materials obtained from separate collection of plastic packaging.
“So what happens to our plastic once it is collected?”
An important part of plastic recycling is the possibility to recover the packaging as material or energy. You all know that plastic reappears as blankets and pullovers on the supermarket shelves but it is also used for energy and Co.Re.Pla.’s choice in the handling of packaging plastic waste in the field of energy recovery is very interesting. On the one hand, it offers an interesting and cleaner energy power and on the other hand it has to follow the recycling path through material recycling in compliance with EU norms.
The municipalities and/or operators on behalf of municipalities itself arrange the separate collection which is sent to sorting plants where the material is split up into different polymeric families (types of plastic for the uninitiated).
“What does Co.Re.Pla. do with the plastic it collects?”
Co.Re.Pla. sells every recyclable fraction, i.e. bottles and flacons (PET, PE), film (plastic bags, packaging plastic film etc) (LDPE), by auction. Co.Re.Pla. is now also able to sell a new product constituted by a polyolefin compound (MPO) which is a mix of food trays, tanks and pots in PE,
The residuals from the sorting and recycling processes that have a certain energy value is sent directly and or duly treated to the waste to energy plant or the cement works.
The treated plastic, in a reduced pellet – like form, is used to substitute coke in the burning process and because it burns at a higher temperature, it gives more energy and is cleaner too.
“How much of the plastic you collect are you able to recover?”
In 2010 over 36% of plastic packaging waste was recovered which is the amount of plastic packaging collected and treated but the material storage is not taken into the account.
For more about ways to go green in your everyday life, visit this site which helped me by recycling it images….. http://www.thedailygreen.com/
For an interesting video about what happens if you don’t recycle…..watch these youtube clips: