Made in Italy, the perfect circle


It’s an example of Italian excellence but it doesn’t know that it is. It’s a piece of “Made in Italy” that is worth a lot but about which very little is said. This is the adventure told in “100 Italian circular economy stories,” the report on the circular economy produced by Enel and the Symbola Foundation. This is the third chapter in a story that began in 2016 when the two organisations co-published a book on the green economy and which continued last year with one on electric mobility.

From A for Armadio Verde (Green Wardrobe) to Z for Zero Waste. It is a census of the best of “an Italy that makes Italy,” in the words of Ermete Realacci, founder of Symbola, who presented this latest report together with Enel CEO and General Manager Francesco Starace.

Italy’s leadership in the circular economy is also confirmed by the figures. According to Eurostat, it is the major European country with the highest share of circular materials used in the production system: it accounts for almost one fifth of the total (with 18.5%) and is ahead of Germany (with 10.7%). With 256.3 tonnes per million euros, we are second most efficient in material consumption (after Great Britain) and are second to Germany in terms of industrial recycling, with 48.5 million tonnes of non-hazardous waste being sent for recycling (this is better than France, the United Kingdom and Spain). This amounts to a primary energy saving of over 17 million tonnes of oil equivalent per year and of 60 million tonnes in CO2 emissions.

Historically, Italy never had much in the way of raw materials and that could explain why the country discovered the concept of circular economy before the term was even invented. It is part of Italy’s DNA and can be found in many of the stories told in the book. They include the Florence-based company Dell'Orco&Villani, which recycles the rags of the Prato textile district, the Comieco consortium in the Lucca area that transforms packaging used by local factories into paper and cardboard, Orange Fiber, which has patented the world’s first fabric made from the by-products of citrus processing and the Bologna-based company Regenesi, which turns cans and refrigerators into design objects and jewellery. All these are examples of companies and industrial areas that are innovating without losing their basic spirit.

As explained by Francesco Starace, “The report presented today shows that the 100 examples of excellence in the circular economy in Italy don’t only include large companies, but also small and medium-sized enterprises, institutions, associations and cooperatives. They are ahead of their time and have adopted virtuous industrial practices and processes. This proves the competitiveness of the Italian system in international terms and helps in the fight against climate change.”

Realacci urges that “we should be less lazy and more curious” and reminds us that there are still many issues to be resolved. For example, the lack of a legal framework for “the end of waste” (when waste ceases to be waste), or the red tape that prevents a company like Fater, one of the key stories in the book, from putting the world’s first plant to recycle diapers 100% into operation at its factory in Treviso.

Despite these challenges, the Italian recycling and reuse economy has become an international benchmark, for example in measuring circularity. Francesco Starace and Ermete Realacci stress this and they agree that Italy should “raise the bar of circularity” in Europe too, transforming environmental concern into an opportunity for the country. This is also because the ability to reduce, reuse and recycle a company’s waste now represents both economic value and a competitive advantage. It is the perfect circle.