Did you know that, after Germany, we are the European champions of paper recycling?

Paper recycling in Italy is an institution and an excellence of ecology and circular economy (that is, it reuses waste to generate new product). Let's see how to play our part in this virtuous cycle of environmental sustainability.

As with all materials, those who use paper and cardboard can make ecologically sustainable choices in two moments: when they buy and when they discard them.

Let's start from the former, in which the best choice is to lean towards paper obtained as much as possible through recycling and, if it is not, from responsibly managed forest wood.

How to identify a material with these requirements? Thanks to symbols representing important environmental certifications:

  1. Recycled paper 100%: paper made from recycled fibres. Paper can be reused after recycling up to 7 times, allowing, other than the protection of forest, also significant electricity savings and lower CO2 emissions;
  2. FSC (Forest Stewardship Council), international non-profit organization that deals with tracing and certifying the eco-sustainability of all materials obtained from wood, ensuring origin from forests managed correctly and responsibly according to strict environmental standards, social and economic. The FSC brand provides 3 types: FSC 100% (contains only material from certified forests), Mixed FSC (contains at least the 70% of FSC material, controlled wood and/or recycled materials) and Recycled FSC (contains only recycled materials of which at least 85% are post-consumer);
  3. PEFC (Programme for Endorsement of Forest Certification schemes): another international brand recognized by the European Parliament and the Italian Ministry of the Environment, provides the same controls and standards as the FSC brand;
  4. TCF/ECF/PCF: indicate that the product has not been treated with chlorine, but bleached with oxygen, therefore it is free of toxic residues. ECF (Elemental Chlorine Free) indicates that the paper has been bleached without the use of chlorine in the gaseous state, but in the form of chlorine oxide (less toxic), TCF (Totally Chlorine Free) and PCF (Processed Chlorine Free) they mean that no chlorine compounds were used in the process;
  5. EU Ecolabel: in addition to the ecological standards of the two previous ones, this certification also guarantees a reduced environmental impact during the entire life cycle of the object, for example by including paper whitening treatments that do not involve chlorine compounds, that would produce highly polluting waste. This symbol therefore implicitly includes the TCF logo of the previous point;
  6. Green Dot: it does not give any information about the material itself. It is a registered trademark of the German packaging recovery system DSD (Duales System Deutschland). Payesr of the DSD can use the symbol even if they are in another state, but specifies that whoever produced the packaging also finances the entity that will dispose of and recycle it;
  7. ISO certification 14001: is a company certification of environmental system, a standard that certifies that the manufacturing company implements a management system, constant monitoring and improvement of its environmental performance in order to reduce the impact on the environment;
  8. Other rarer logos like the German Blauer Engel (blue angel) or the Scandinavian Nordic Ecolabel are indicators of eco-sustainable paper production.

If these symbols allow us to make an ecological choice when buying a paper or cardboard object, when we want to discard it in the bin, just follow a few rules to properly send it for recycling and ready reuse:

  1. In case of doubts about recyclability, look for the triangular symbol that says PAP which certifies its compatibility with recycling systems
  2. Paper and cardboard to be recycled must be deposited inside the appropriate containers;
  3. Packaging with food residues does not go into the separate collection of paper and cardboard. They cause bad smells and create problems in the recycling process;
  4. Oiled paper – such as that of cheese or ham – is not recyclable;
  5. Paper soiled with poisonous substances such as paints or solvents is not recyclable;
  6. Paper tissues do not go into separate collection. They are anti-pulping and therefore difficult to recycle;
  7. Receipts should not be thrown away with the paper because they are made with thermal paper that causes problems in recycling;
  8. Carbon paper should be avoided, wallpaper, parchment paper, baking paper;
  9. Instead, paper containing small different material can be recycled, such as staples or plastic windows, which will be disposed of during the recycling process.
Paper ready for recycling.

Paper ready for recycling. Photo by Etienne Girardet on Unsplash

But how does paper and cardboard recycling work in Italy? It rather does!! But we can still improve a lot, and it's good for everyone.

A recyclable box comes back to life in less than 2 weeks. A sheet of newspaper comes back to life after only 1 week. In 2018 around 57% of paper and cardboard production was obtained with recycled fibres, in quantitative terms is more than 5 million tons. In the packaging sector, the recycling rate in the 2018 has reached 81% of the amount released for consumption, far beyond the objective of 75% set to 2025 by the new European directive, and in line with the 85% target for the 2030. Recycling is supervised by COMIECO (Consorzio Nazionale Recupero e Riciclo degli Imballaggi a base Cellulosica) and assisted by CONAI (Consorzio Nazionale Imballaggi), which stipulates agreements with local administrations for the separate collection of paper and cellulosic packaging. The conventions provide for a contribution in favor of the municipalities, calculated on the basis of the quantity and quality of the harvest,which aims to help municipalities to bear the higher costs generated by the separated waste collection. In 2018 the total transfers from COMIECO to the Municipalities was 97,5 million euros.

How to fund consortia like COMIECO and CONAI? Thanks to the legislation (DL 152/06) providing that a levy shall be paid for each tonne of packaging placed on the market (CAC, Contributo Ambientale CONAI) allowing then the material to be recovered and recycled.

All this is possible thanks to citizens who choose to dedicate a few more moments to correctly differentiate paper and cardboard, making a simple but effective gesture in reducing the impact on the environment of human activities.

Sources: COMIECO, Ecolabel, EMAS, HERA, CONAI

Article by Marco Rocca