Italy's waste management record defended

Environment minister claims new culture of waste avoidance, stresses role of recycling

Italian policies on waste management are well on course and have yielded good results, environment minister Edo Ronchi said yesterday as he celebrated the first anniversary of a wide-ranging national decree on waste management.

Speaking to journalists in Rome, Mr Ronchi said that a new culture of waste avoidance was clearly beginning to emerge all over Italy and called on local authorities to increase their efforts to reduce waste generation.

Landfill remain the dominant feature in Italian waste management, taking 86% of household refuse in 1997. Mr Ronchi said that household waste recovery had risen from 6.7% in 1996 to 8.7% in 1997. The modest increase remains significantly below the targets in the 1997 law, which rise in a series of steps to 35% in 2000. The minister conceded that implementation of the law was still limited, but blamed this on delays on the part of regional and local authorities.

A different interpretation of the situation was offered last week by environmental group World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Italy, which issued a report blaming the delays on inaccuracies, intricacies and a lack of consistency in the decree. In particular, WWF accused Mr Ronchi of failing to comply with the principle of waste avoidance by giving undue prominence to waste incineration.

Yesterday, the minister dismissed WWF's criticisms as a "misleading interpretation of reality". There are only 32 incineration plants currently operating in Italy, he said, burning a total of 1.3 million tonnes a year of waste. The number is due to increase marginally when six plants authorised in 1996 and 1997 become operational. No other plants were authorised, the minister stressed, and although over a hundred requests for new incineration plants had been made, avoidance, reuse and recycling remained the cornerstones of Italy's waste management policy.

Mr Ronchi emphasised the need to reduce the amount of waste going to landfills, not only because of its environmental impact, but also because it represented a vast source of illegal business to criminal organisations (ENDS Daily 19 January). The minister hopes that reducing demand for landfill sites will help to undermine the activities of eco-criminals.

On hazardous waste, for which detailed regulations have still to be passed, the environment minister mentioned "serious problems" with the EU concerning measurements of arisings. "This is a difficult issue," he said. "The Union is asking for exact figures [for waste generation], while we talk about the annual capacity of plants. There's no easy solution."

Follow Up:
Italian environment ministry, tel: +34 6 70361.

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