Ten zero-waste cities: How Capannori inspired other European municipalities on zero waste

Taking a proactive, holistic approach and involving residents in all stages of policy development were key elements that led the Italian commune to top European waste prevention leagues

By Sonia Henam, Swati Singh Sambyal
Published: Monday 30 December 2019
Waste segregation in Capannori. Photo: YouTube
Waste segregation in Capannori. Photo: YouTube Waste segregation in Capannori. Photo: YouTube

2008 saw the birth of Zero Waste in Europe. Its roots were in Capannori, a town of 46,700 inhabi­tants near Lucca in Tuscany, Northern Italy, where zero waste policies were enacted by the local community and municipality. Back in late 1990s, incineration was gaining traction in Italy and communities such as Capan­nori were left to fight the construc­tion of incinerators on their own.

Beginning of Zero Waste

Enter Ros­sano Ercolini, a primary school teacher. He recognised the poten­tially damaging effects the planned local incinerator would have on the health of residents and on the sur­rounding landscape back in 1997. With the help of Paul Connett, a world expert on incineration and Zero Waste, he set about convincing local residents of the potential danger of erecting an incinerator in their community. The movement was successful in block­ing construction and soon spread to three other communities threatened with incineration in the region.

Journey to Zero Waste

The town council of Ca­pannori was the first in Europe to sign up to the Zero Waste strategy in 2007, committing to send zero waste to landfills by 2020. Door-to-door collection was in­troduced in stages across the mu­nicipality between 2005 and 2010, starting with small villages, where any mistakes could be identified and corrected early on, then extended to cover the entire municipal area in 2010. By that time, 82 per cent of municipal waste was being segregated at source, leav­ing just 18 per cent of residual waste to go to landfills.

In 2012, the Pay As You Throw waste tariff was introduced, where the frequency of collection per household is measured using micro­chips in stickers on residual waste bags, scanned by a reader on the collection vehicle. This system brought significant change in the waste management system in the town; the new tariff incentivised better segregation and prevention, driving local source segregation rates up to 90 per cent.

Residents were consulted during the door-to-door collection scheme and other zero waste measures, which was a  key to the success of the initiatives. Meetings were held in public places to gather input and ideas and in­volve the local population in the Zero Waste strategy.

Printed information was sent to every address. A few weeks before door-to-door collection was introduced in a given area, vol­unteers distributed free waste sep­aration kits to all homes, including the various bins and bags required and further printed information. Volunteers were trained to answer residents’ questions about the new scheme, all of which meant that par­ticipation was smooth, immediate and effective.

A sustainable waste management solution

Composting, recycling, emphasising on reuse and upcycling are the elements that makes these models successful. The new collection system has resulted in the diversion of the organic waste stream.

ASCIT, a local waste collec­tion corporation, carries out frequent door-to-door collection of organic waste and sends it to a compost­ing plant in the province. In 2010, public canteens in Capannori were supplied with Joraform composting machines by the municipality. This was done keeping in mind that it can helped reduce the cost of collecting, transporting and treating organic waste by be­tween 30 and 70 per cent and cover groups of residents.

Residents have been encouraged to take up home composting, with 2,200 households picking up free composters and re­ceiving training on composting tech­niques. Those households that home compost, are given a 10 per cent discount on their waste tariff as an incentive, and spot checks have shown that 96 per cent of households are still using their com­posters correctly. As a next step, a biomethanisa­tion plant for the area is currently in the planning and consultation stage.

Designing waste out of the system

In 2010, Capannori set up the first Zero Waste Research Centre in Eu­rope, where waste experts identify what is still being thrown in the grey residual waste bags and come up with alter­native solutions. The high volume of dispos­able nappies in residual waste led the municipality to offer subsidised washable nappies to local parents.

The council could also save over €2m in 2009, making the scheme economically self-suf­ficient. These savings are reinvested back in waste reduction infrastructure, and reducing fixed waste tariffs for res­idents by 20 per cent. It has also funded the recruitment of 50 ASCIT employees, boosting employment in the region.

Pioneer town in waste pre­vention

Capanno­ri is now truly leading in the area of waste prevention since the pay-as-you-throw scheme has been adopted by all municipalities. The overall volume of waste generated per person dropped from 192 kg to 118 kg / per­son / year between 2004 and 2013.

More impressively, the rate of unseparat­ed — or residual — waste per capita was reduced from 340 kg per year in 2006 to 146 kg in 2011, a drop of 57 per cent. This means that beyond just boosting recycling rates, local policy makers have looked at ways to reduce waste generation at source.

Zero waste initiatives

Two self-service refill stations for milk were opened, introducing a model of food distribution called ‘the short chain’ — the stations are supplied directly by a local farmers’ cooperative and consumers buy without the intermediary of a pack­aging plant or retailer, so that they pay lower prices and farmers make more on each litre.

It has been enor­mously successful, with 200 litres a day sold through the stations and 91 per cent of customers refilling their own con­tainers, thereby cutting about 90,000 bottles out of the waste system.

Other initiatives included a campaign to increase consumption of tap water rather than bottled, doing away with disposable cutlery and flatware in public dings including schools, distributing cloth shopping bags to all 17,800 households and 5,000 to businesses and stocking reusable nappies and sanitary products in municipal pharmacies.

All these initiatives are a result of proactive political nudges in the right direction, leading to residents becoming aware of and being able to implement virtuous consumption habits.

A flagship community

Taking a proactive, holistic approach and involving residents in all stages of policy development are the key elements that have led Capannori to top the European waste prevention leagues and, through its position as the Zero Waste Network’s Flagship Municipality, inspire other commu­nities to aim higher than just fulfill­ing recycling targets. Today hundreds of European municipalities follow the example of Capannori.

This is the ninth of a 10-part series

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