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Tuesday, 05 February 2013 12:29

Roles and efforts regarding organic source separation, an extensive talk with Enzo Favoino

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Roles and efforts regarding organic source separation.

An extensive talk with Enzo Favoino

Enzo Favoino is with Scuola Agraria del Parco di Monza, Working Group on Sustainable Waste Management. He and his team are soundly involved across Italy and Europe in scientific and technical issues related to optimisation of schemes for separate collection, process management in composting and anaerobic digestion, optimisation of existing plants, marketing of composted products, role of mechanical-biological treatment for residual waste. They have widely contributed to the development of separate collection (with particular regard to biowaste) and composting in Italy,  Spain, UK and other Member States.  Favoino is frequently providing support to the European Commission and other international bodies on  Waste and Biowaste Management  and Source Separation.   
He has chaired the WG on Biological Treatment at ISWA since 2004 through 2012; he is co-founder  and Member of the Board of ECN-European Compost Network

Read his recent report on D-Waste about "Anaerobic Digestion of MSW in EU: Status, Trends & Key Concepts" , focused on the discussion of anaerobic digestion as an interesting option of treatment/recovery of the organic waste of municipal origin.

We know that there is a new effort for organic source separation in Milano city. Can you describe us this new project and its importance?

The City Council resolved to introduce separate collection of food waste from households. This adds on the already existing kerbside collection system for paper, plastics and cans, glass, and residual waste, besides food waste from big producers (restaurants, canteens, greengroceries, bakeries, etc) which already delivered around 35.000 t/y of clean feedstocks for composting and anaerobic digestion.

Actually, Milan already successfully rolled out 2 pilots, one in 2009 and another one as early as 1995 (the time at which kerbside collection took the basic shape it has nowadays); however, despite promising results, the scheme was not enlarged due to plans to build further capacities for incineration. The new City Council embedded in its programme the implementation of separate collection of food waste from all households in order to target the separate collection and material recovery rates mandated by the National Environmental Act and the EU Waste Framework Directive (Milan in 2011 was at 35% or so).

A first quarter of the City, totaling a population of 350.000, rolled out the system in late November. The plans are to extend to second quarter this spring, and to cover 100% (1,2 M people) in early 2014. By then, Milan will likely be the largest town in Europe with 100% of the population covered by separate collection of food waste (including suburbs, city centre, business districts, etc.). Certainly, coverage of 100% can set a new benchmark for practicable strategies in large towns in Italy and Europe (many towns have already included such schemes, albeit only in some neighborhoods)

Early outcomes are extremely promising, and go beyond any expected result. Qualitty of collected biowaste ranges from 96 to 99% purity (which is beyond the 9%% which is typically considered satisfactory to have simplified processes at compost and AD sites) and the collected quantity (65.000 t/y, making projections to the whole city) is remarkably higher than the planned one. Alongside an increase in separate collection of other waste materials – food waste typically exerts a “driving effect” to maximize also captures of other fractions – early calculations deliver a separate collection rate around 60 to 65%, although more evidence will be collected in next few months.

In general terms, a lot of people think that organic source separation programs are pretty difficult in cities and high population density areas. Is it a fact or it is something that can be managed? Please give some examples of similar applications

This goes against evidence we have gained in last 15 years or so. Separate collection of food waste even at high-rises is widespread around Italy, and early schemes were established as early as 1995 (only 2 years after the first kerbside scheme with separation of food waste in rural districts). We have many neighborhoods were food waste from households is sorted in Turin, achieving typically 60-70% separate collection. Even in Southern Italy, the case of Salerno (pop. 150.000, 50 km South of Naples) shows evidence of practicability irrespective of latitude and societal conditions.

Since the early stages, we have surveyed cost-effectiveness, quality of separate collection and customer satisfaction. The common outcome is that well designed and properly run schemes, always deliver good results.

Certainly, what helps is the particular operational approach which has been adopted in Italy since the early 90’s: in particular, use of small bulk lorries instead of big compactors (thanks to the facts that food waste is not collected alongside bulky garden waste) make it possible and cheap a more frequent collection; above all, the use of biobags makes the system user-friendly. All of which enhances participation and satisfaction amongst households (and large producers, too)

Recently there was the 18th COP in Doha and we know that waste management is getting slowly but steadily higher in the agenda. How about the role of organic source separation and composting in Climate Change Mitigation efforts? We have heard you saying that it is pretty much underestimated

Indeed. As a matter of evidence, the importance of turning organic matter into soils has been trivialized so far – this is a bias deriving directly from current modeling methodologies for accounting C benefits and credits. We have long investigated and highlighted the “neglected benefits” of using compost to reduce greenhouse gases, and an article we published on “Waste Management and Research” has been a milestone in this respect, and one with the highest impact factors on the subject . Besides the potential role of carbon sequestration (which is trivialized by the current methodologies which only consider C as “sequestered” if it is kept 100 years in soil) there are other benefits as improved tilth and water retention (reducing the E uptake for plowing, tilling and irrigation) reduced N2O from mineral fertilizers, besides replacement of fertilizers (which brings along E savings from their production and application) and replacement of peat (peat bogs are considered as a “fossil C reservoir”). Of course, on top of this there may be also production of renewable energy through a combined “anaerobic digestion + composting” approach (typically, anaerobic digestion may deliver 100-200 kWh/t of food waste processed, energy that largely replaces fossil sources)

The importance of organic matter and soils to tackle climate change has been recently highlighted by the EC themselves, in a Report (“Review of existing information on the interrelations between soil and climate change”, aka CLIMSOIL Report) of paramount importance, that picks on our arguments, making them consistent and inspiring for policy making – in the EU and worldwide

Despite the primary driver for separate collection of food waste is still related to cost optimization of systems and drivers coming from the waste policy (the diversion targets stipulated by the Landfill Directive, the material recovery targets mandated by the Waste Framework Directive, and related provisions in the domestic regulatory framework) also the beneficial impact on strategies devised to tackle climate change is getting emphasized on the agenda.

Last but not least, give us an idea on the effects of the crisis to waste management in Italy and especially on the recycling efforts

Well, the impact of the economic downturn is manifold, sometimes bad but mostly positive.

The downside is of course related to the lack of economic resources for the Cap.Ex. needed to start the system (new equipment, receptacles) – which is anyway of minor importance, having in mind that what matters is the continued operational cost (which includes also, but not only, the financial depreciation of anticipated investments). In any case, in many areas around Italy EU structural funds are an important source (not in Milan, due to it’s one of the most wealthy areas across Europe, hence it has no access to structural funds)

The positive driving effects are related to the lower total cost of waste management (in an economic and regulatory environment in which disposal is increasingly expensive) and beneficial occupational implications: rolling out a kerbside scheme and related recycling + composting activities, shifts the “economic load” from technology and capitals to manpower and jobs, which is beneficial to local communities and the society as a whole. We have calculated (consistently with similar estimates issued by the EC) around 1 additional job each 1000 people thanks to more labour-intensive strategies related to kerbside collection and following recycling + composting activities. This makes a potential of additional occupation in the region of 60.000 jobs in Italy, and roughly half a million in the EU!

Read 4818 times Last modified on Tuesday, 05 February 2013 21:17
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