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Italy Tackles Its Waste Problem

Cosmari, a waste collecting and disposal consortium, deployed an RFID solution that increased recycling and delivered a return on investment.
By Jennifer Zaino
Mar 23, 2015

Italy is known for producing fine wines, high-end leather products, Ferraris and other luxury items. Less well known is the fact that the country generates approximately 30 million tons of household waste annually. The nation is currently recycling 40 percent of that waste, and a national effort is under way to increase the percentage to 65 percent, according to Giuseppe Giampaoli, the general director of Cosmari, a waste collecting and disposal consortium serving a number of municipalities in Macerata, a region in central Italy.

"It is not simple to find places to store non-recycled waste," Giampaoli says, "or to burn it with special plants." As such, many municipalities need to export collected waste and pay the importers, which might be foreign countries, to handle its disposal. But if the waste is differentiated—that is, if recyclable materials are sorted by class (plastic, paper, metal and so on)—it can be sold to companies that want to use it as raw material. "So, a very important goal for a municipality," he adds, "is to increment the quantity of differentiated waste, and to reduce the general waste."

Italy generates approximately 30 million tons of household waste annually.
Municipalities typically tax residents for trash removal based on the house size and the number of occupants. But individual households likely produce different amounts of non-recycled waste and recyclable materials. A fairer tax plan could encourage citizens to recycle more waste—households that generate more non-recyclable materials would pay higher taxes, contributing more toward funding its removal.

But for the plan to work, there had to be a way to track waste. As of December 2013, Cosmari had deployed an RFID solution to track bags of materials from 80,000 citizens in nine municipalities: Camerino, Casteraimondo, Civitanova Marche, Loro Piceno, Monte San Giusto, Porto Recanati, Recanati, San Severino and Urbisaglia.

Giuseppe Giampaoli
Cosmari funded the solution and manages the program—from distributing smart collection bags to selling the recyclable materials. The monies Cosmari receives from the latter help to recover deployment costs, so the company can sell the RFID service to other municipalities at an affordable price.

Developing the Solution
Many years back, Giampaoli says, other municipalities tried to track waste with low-frequency (LF) RFID technology. That was before ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID was a stable technology, he adds. Cosmari was not involved in those efforts, but Giampaoli explains that LF readers were integrated onto collection vehicles. and only trash bins were tagged. So it wasn't possible to properly assess individual household taxes for waste collection, because the number of bags that actually were in the trash bins could not be accounted for.

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