Natural environment  |  Successes  |  16.04.2013

Reduce, reuse, recycle!

Is reaching the goal of zero waste impossible for a municipality? Giorgio del Ghingaro, Mayor of Capannori (Italy), the first European town to declare a Zero Waste target for 2020, proves that the opposite is true without a lot of money or spectacular actions.

The municipality of Cappannori, in Tuscany (Italy) numbers about 45 000 inhabitants disseminated in 40 small villages. Six years ago, it joined the Zero Waste International Alliance and built a successful strategy to reduce its waste. This public action is supported from the municipal budget, as Cappannori has not got any EU, national or regional funds. In five years, waste volumes diminished by 35%. Today, waste sorting represents 82% of the global amount of waste. What are the three keys leading to this success?

1. A breeding ground

Cappannori’s citizens were already very concerned about waste issues. They had already experienced a debate on the building of a waste incinerator which ended because of archaeological remains found on the site. A strong opposition to the incinerator project had spread an environmentally-friendly mindset which played a role in getting citizens committed to the zero waste goal. As Giorgio del Ghingaro said “without the will of inhabitants, tackling waste would not have been successful”.

2. A learning process 

Two policies define the zero waste strategy: better waste sorting and reduction of waste consumption.  For the former, the municipality set up door to door collection for paper, glass and plastic every two days! For organic waste, a microchip added to the bags enables the municipality to tell the way that each family or company sorts: if you do it well, you pay less. The municipality promotes also self-composting and has its own system of compost (from its canteen and administration) providing soil for the public gardens. 

To tackle waste consumption, the municipality set the example by reducing its own volume of waste. They stopped the use of plastic bottles in schools, administration and public buildings. They banned plastic bags and offered each citizen a canvas bag to do their shopping. They bought dishwashers for the public renting rooms, so that people don’t use plastic cutlery anymore during celebrations. The municipality also implemented a barter system on market places.

3. A participative process

The most important factor of success was to involve people and retailers. The municipality organised more than a hundred meetings with citizens. At the beginning, some people were reluctant to change their habits: reactions were exacerbated. “We used a “carrot”.  If you participate in recycling, you get a discount of 10% on your invoice; if you participate in composting you get another 10%...” commented Giorgio del Ghingaro.  Cappannori thus got to have one of the lowest tax rates of the region.

The municipality facilitated cooperation with private actors to reduce waste. For example, they enhanced local production and promoted loose products to reduce packaging. Now, consumers directly buy milk from local farmers. Retailers have also an agreement with detergent companies to buy barrels of produce which they can then sell without packaging. A new service offers to fix furniture and home appliances by repairing used installation, for selling it or for donating to poorer people. 

What’s next?

Tackling the waste challenge is economically positive and the municipality would like to go further in its current approach. The waste management policy has created public and private jobs, especially in waste sorting. Some opponents were afraid of the negative outputs for jobs if inhabitants were already sorting waste. But, the company of waste management has been involved in the process and participated to the door to door collection. It even renewed its own equipments to adapt to the recycling path and hired people.

The municipality also created a research centre so that the objective of zero waste was facilitated. In this centre, technicians and volunteers observe garbage to see what is recurrent and how it can be reduced. In addition to creating employment and engaging citizens, it has already produced more results. Lavazza’s coffee capsules are something important in trash: the centre succeeded to negotiate with the famous brand the creation of recyclable capsules that the company will start commercialising during the upcoming months. Another recycling challenge is diapers. The municipality has therefore begun to distribute free recyclable diapers and it will continue to do so, encouraged by the positive results.

However, Cappanori has still to reach 0% by 2020, meaning working on the 15% left.  By having created a “community” Giorgio del Ghingaro is strongly convinced that Cappannori will continue to reduce, reuse and recycle waste. Let’s see the outcomes in 2020!

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