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Italian experiences to improve Waste separation in Spain

Italy and Spain have many things in common, Mediterranean weather, beautiful beaches, Latin character, good food, good football, and many more. But in the field of Waste management, Italy is ahead of us, and, since some years they count with very interesting experiences. Now, in Spain, there is the trend to import all Italian experiences, the good and the bad things. For this reason, it is important to choose well what is what really is working and how we can adapt it.

This week I was lucky enough to be able to visit the North of Italy, from Brescia to Venice, passing through Padova. I could not only admire the beauty of these nice cities, the real reason for my trip was to see and learn how these cities manage waste and how have some enviable ratios of recycled material collection.

And still more important, the main goal of this experience was to discover which are the keys to successfully implement such systems and see if it is feasible to do so in a similar way in Spain. In short, make "benchmarking" - in English, or that it is "copy what works".

Fig. 1. Grand Canal of Venice

City of Brescia

My journey took me the first day at Brescia, where I had the opportunity to meet with the directors of the A2A Group company, Aprica. This company carries out the collection in cities such as Brescia, Milan, Bergamo and Varesse among others.

They explained us how in Brescia, only in just two years, they have improved from a rate of separate collection of 30% to a 70% by applying a Pay-as-you-Throw system. At the same time, the global generation of waste has been reduced by 15.7%. For a city of 200,000 people, it seems a feat. In this case, they opted for the user identification with an RFID card and the implementation of electronic  access control systems in the large side-loading containers located in the street for the bio-waste and "undifferentiated' waste (in Spain we call this type of waste "rest-waste", perhaps it would be interesting to look for a more appropriate name to this "non-type-of-waste" which could communicate better what it really is, as Italian or Portuguese have done).

The implementation has been done by stages, dividing the city into 6 zones of a range between 20,000 and 40,000 inhabitants each. The new system was launched at the first zone in early 2016. Approximately, every three months a new area has been implemented with the new system, so, in two years it has been extended to the whole city.

Province of Venice

On the second day of my trip I visited Veritas, where I could meet with the directors of the company responsible for the management of waste and water to the Province of Venice.

The province of Venice has a long experience innovating in their waste management systems. For more than 20 years they have improved in many aspects. Since some years ago, they have in place a Pay-as-you-Throw system reaching a rate of 80% in recycled waste collection, for a population of 900,000 inhabitants. After years of experience with different collection systems, Veritas has come to standardizing two modalities of collection. These modalities have been chosen because they are the ones which better fulfill their two main targets: the implementation of payment by generation of waste, and, for its efficiency in carrying out the service. The first modality is a door to door collection with 120 l bins for all types of waste, except for the bio-waste, which is collected with 30 l small bins with a higher collection frequency. All bins are identified with an RFID tag. The second modality of collection is the use of large volume containers on the street for the different types of waste. The container of undifferentiated waste (rest) is closed with an electronic access control system, identifying the users with RFID cards.

All the municipalities of the province managed by Veritas, about 40 in total, must choose between one of these two modalities of collection.

Once these high rates of separate collection have been consolidated in all the province of Venice for a large and diverse population, there is little room for more improvement in this area.  So, Veritas is currently concentrating its efforts in two new strategic objectives: 1) Service cost optimization by managing some of the collection services with dynamic routes, and, 2nd) The improvement of the health and conditions of workers through the rotation of staff in the different services. The pillar to carry out these new goals is none other than the extensive use of the management software technology and onboard electronics and telematic systems in the vehicle. The Software receives the services to perform and optimizes the routes. In the vehicles, on board computers guide drivers so they can make the routes that they do not known in advance.

The five key factors for a separate waste collection of 80%

In the experiences of Brescia and Venice, there are five common and fundamental pillars that have allowed both implement and successfully maintain a waste management system with an optimum degree of waste separation at source. These five pillars are:


Fig. 2. Five pillars for 80% of separate collection

1. User identification:

The first thing that we need to implement a payment system in waste to apply the polluter pays principle is to identify the users who generate the waste so we can measure their "consumption" as if it were any other service such as the electricity, water, gas, or phone. There are basically two ways to identify users:

The collection system with large volume containers in the street allows the user identification by closing the container with electronic access control systems. Then, each user has an RFID card to be identified by the registration in the container. This badge allows users to open the container and place their waste.

The other alternative is the door to door collection, where each user has its own private containers identified with RFID tags. It is registered how many times each container is emptied in the collection truck with an automatic RFID system installed in the vehicle. The door to door collection with 2 and 4 wheel bins is the most popular solution for the commercial for its ease of implementation and great efficiency.

Both systems allow to reach a similar percentage of separate collection. The door to door system achieves a separate collection with a slightly higher waste quality. The container closed on the public street system is easier to implement in areas of high population density and the collection is more efficient from the economic and logistical point of view.

Fig. 3 Modalities for access control and door to door zones in Venice

2. Pay-as-you-Throw:

Users pay according to the use that they make, allowing to apply the polluter pays principle. It is taxed primarily the undifferentiated type of waste (restwaste). The fee is divided with a fixed part, usually based on the number of members of the family unit and the square meters of the household, or, the type of activity and square metres in the case of commercial activities. The variable part of the fee is based on the quantity of liters of non-recyclable waste deposited, which is measured from the number of openings or the number of times the bins of a user are emptied.

3. Communication campaigns:

When such a system is launched for the first time in a new territory, it is necessary to carry out an intense campaign of communication right at the beginning of the implementation of the new system, neither before, nor after. In addition, it will be necessary to do periodic reminder campaigns, which should be more or less intense depending on the results and people’s behavior. Such campaigns should focus on the critical points. The key of success is to educate users on the need to separate waste well. We must clearly explain the negative impacts, both economic and environmental consequences, that represent for the own citizens the fact of not separating waste correctly.

4. Penalty fees:

The penalty fees are undoubtedly the most controversial point of the system. A penalty fee policy is difficult to accept by the politicians, at least in Spain. However, if there is no punishment, the system simply does not work. It is essential that users follow the rules. It is not enough to wait for the citizen to cooperate, it is mandatory to do it well. Giving a reward to the citizen is politically more friendly, but ineffective. This is human being, even if we would be awarded with a ham at end of the year by not speeding, probably in the motorway we would see a multitude of cars running at 200 per hour... Sanctions and points are those who persuade the driver not to exceed the maximum speed limit. With waste, is the same.

Fig. 4 - Notice of fine in each container (Venice)


Both Brescia and Venice have a rigorous and expensive system of sanctions for the citizen or business that does not follow the rules of the waste system. This is one of the tasks of the municipal police.

In addition, the money collected from the penalty fees allows largely finance communication campaigns. When worse behavior, the greater the number of sanctions and fundraising, and the municipality can invest more money in communication campaigns. On the other hand, if the behavior is good, less money will be raised, but, the need for campaigns will also be lower.

5. Reliable and robust Technology:

Technology is the tool that allows the identification of the user and the measurement of its consumption: it is our "trash" counter. In order to avoid the failure of the system we need a functional counter with two fundamental characteristics: it has to be reliable and robust. On the one hand, the technological system must have certificates for the commercial transactions and provide an efficiency of 100%. The billing and the reputation of the system depends on the reliability of the technology.

In Venice for example, the selection of the technology that was initially implemented was not sufficiently reliable and robust. As a result, it was not possible implement a Pay as you Throw system. They could only progress when they changed to a more robust and reliable technology system. This change of technology meant a significant additional cost for the Municipality, since they had to make the technological investment twice, and it delayed several years the implementation of the payment system which has provided them such good results.

Fig. 5 Onboard computer Operand and MOBA RFID system


Fig. 6. Electronic Access and Volume control EMZ (partner MOBA in Spain)


 I would like to take this opportunity to thank my colleagues of MOBA Italy (Matteo and Stefano) and our allies of EMZ (Raoul and Lorenzo) for the effort made to achieve an excellent coordination of the meetings with the customers. Without their cooperation, our experience in Italy would not have been possible.  

I would also like to thank the management teams of the companies Veritas and Aprica for their kindness by sharing his valuable knowledge and experience. With them we also discovered that it is possible to understand each other by speaking Italian and Spanish directly, if done it very slowly! 

I want to greet and thank the colleagues (and friends) that joined me during these two long journeys, for the pleasant hours in which we were able to share work, cultural visits and a good time. 

And finally, I take this opportunity to highlight the great work made by our Company colleagues and allies in Italy, implementing and launching the best technological solutions for these and other projects, which are helping our customers to get a great success in their waste management and getting as well the highest results in terms of separate waste collection.


Climent Vilatersana

MOBA Spain - 25/02/2018


climent 27.02.2018 3 6927
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