Biocircularcities pilots receive support from external experts

Five external experts, representing private companies and research organisations, joined the first Peer Review session of the Biocircularcities project. The aim was to discuss – together with the project’s partners – the results coming from the first three local Living Labs (LLs). The invited experts also had the opportunity to share their own experience and projects on circular bioeconomy.

Anne Trémier, research director of INRAE shared the lessons learnt about biowaste management from the DECISIVE project, underlining which were the main issues encountered when deciding among decentralisation and centralisation on biowaste treatment. Sergio Ulgiati, professor at Parthenope University and the School of Environment, Beijing Normal University, presented a selection of research projects developed in the past years, with special focus on non-energy products (bio-chemicals, food integrators, biomaterials) showing the huge potential to convert bio-waste and bio-residues into valuable outputs. Sergio Ugarte, managing director and co-Founder of SQ Consult BV, presented the BBI JU project CHAMPION promising safer, more sustainable, and circular biopolymers. His presentation focused on sustainability and circularity. Feni Agostinho, professor at Paulista University shared findings on prevention of the organic waste generated by food distribution centers. Michele Giavini, head of ARS Ambiente, presented the main challenges and good practices in Europe for the biowaste separated collection, focusing on the implementation of KAYT – Know As You Throw system.  

After their presentations, experts assisted to the presentation of the Biocircularcities project, the selected biowaste value chains to be studied in the three pilots and the conclusions of each LL on challenges and potential solutions in the current biowaste management in the pilot territories. Each pilot could discuss some specific points with the experts regarding their local situation and planned scenarios to reach a circular bioeconomy on their territory.  

The participation of external reviewers has been fundamental to validate and support project choices and preliminary results as well as to answer questions prepared by the consortium for each pilot. Two other sessions will take place at a later stage of the project, in October 2022 and April 2023.

Pazardzhik Province

For this territory where only 3% of municipal waste is separated, experts agreed that an increase in separation rate could be incentivized by introducing a landfilling tax returned to municipalities according to their performance in separate waste collection. This incentive scheme could make separate collection economically viable as well as biowaste composting/anaerobic digestion treatment cheaper than landfilling. Besides, a change in waste fees paid by waste producers should be introduced to incentive separate collection of different waste fractions and especially biowaste that is currently not source separated. Source separation is rarely economically sustainable in absence of polluter pays principle or without subsidies/incentive schemes. Moreover, communication and awareness campaigns about the importance and benefits of source separation were considered absolutely needed to change citizen’s behaviour.  

The need to valorise the unused forest residues (representing 35% of the total forest residues) that causes frequent fires has been validated. Energy valorisation and lignocellulosic valorisation to produce biochemical have been considered possible alternatives to investigate giving, however, priority to the second option to incentivise good practices for utilization of agro-forestry wastes more in line with the waste hierarchy. Besides forest residues, it was suggested that the focus could be also fixed in the separate collection of garden waste, thinking about composting as a complementary strategy to the actual system. The introduction of specific incentives could stimulate the recovery of agro-forestry waste for energy purposes, but also the regulatory framework has to be revised in order to allow the introduction of new products into the market. Politicians’ commitment is key to support those changes in the system.

Metropolitan City of Naples

The Metropolitan City of Naples treats more than 60% of the source separated biowaste outside of the Campania region, because of insufficient local treatment capacity (i.e. composting and anaerobic digestion). It has been suggested to start a gradual reconversion of local mechanical biological plants into biological treatment exclusively for biowaste. Also, implementing decentralised biowaste treatments, as complementary solutions to the centralised ones could be a potential solution. Indeed, the installation of new large scale biological treatment units for biowaste would be hampered by NIMBY effect and competition with the existing mechanical biological treatment and incineration plants. Increasing the local biological treatment capacity preferring decentralized solutions will allow each territory to treat its own waste independently and in turn can improve the rate and the quality of source-separated biowaste, thus reducing the amount of biowaste remaining in residual waste sent to incinerators or landfill.

Concerning agro-industrial biowaste, experts agreed on the need to retrieve the results from past research and projects, as starting point to expand the range of available circular solutions for the agro-industrial biowaste chains. Unfortunately, a large fraction of these valuable results has remained unexploited, calling for increased efforts towards actual implementation. Industrial symbiosis and local cooperation can pave the way to circular bio-economy results, capable to promote new sources of income as well as to decrease the environmental impacts associated to bio-waste generation and disposal. Raising agro-food industries’ awareness thanks to effective information campaigns about biowaste sustainable management is required to create opportunities of coordinated actions by different companies and foster the implementation of new conversion processes to produce added value products.

Metropolitan Area of Barcelona

The Metropolitan Area of Barcelona is a pioneer region in implementing biowaste source separation but it is experiencing low quality of biowaste due to high impurities content. The advice received is to go towards the “individualisation” of the collection systems: changing the collection system from open containers towards door-to-door or smarts bins. On a subsequent stage, this could make it possible to implement pay-as-you-throw (PAYT) systems. Although individualisation in large cities, in particular in vertical housing, can require challenging infrastructure and technology to be implemented, there are many successful experiences. It was underlined that it is not all about technology, but that there are also sociological aspects in source separation that need to be considered to improve it. Communication to citizens is a complementary tool to individualisation/PAYT to make source separation successful. This sociological aspect is behind the concept of KAYT, a nudging system that can favour a good quality of separately collected biowaste. Raising awareness among citizens is still considered one of the keys for successful separation but citizens need to receive positive feedback more than fines. Biowaste separation needs to be convenient to obtain a large and constant participation and low level of impurities. The more citizens are involved, the better the results.