Waste regulations

Waste management and legislation

Until the 1970s, waste was collected without any sorting taking place and was disposed of in an uncontrolled manner. (As an alternative to disposing of waste directly in the ground, heat treatment or incineration was used). The introduction of laws regulating waste disposal in Italy dates back to the 1980s. In implementing EEC directives no. 75/442 on the subject of waste, no. 76/403 on the disposal of polychlorobiphenyls and polychlorinated triphenyls and no. 78/319 concerning toxic and harmful waste, Presidential Decree 10 September 1982 no. 915 was issued and immediately subject to repeated corrective measures. This was followed by legislative decree 5 February 1997, no. 22, (the so-called “Ronchi Decree”) containing provisions for implementing directives 91/156 /EEC on waste, 91/689/EEC on hazardous waste and 94/62/EC on packaging and packaging waste. This decree represented a turning point in the legislation of all waste regulations, also introducing a more equitable system of taxation for the production of waste, as well as the so-called “polluter pays” principle. The spread within Italy of the concept of recycling and recovery of materials through waste sorting and separate collection dates back to this period.
The Ronchi Decree has now been superseded and repealed by Legislative Decree no. 152 of 2006 (T.U. Ambiente) and its subsequent amendments and additions. One of the most important changes occurred with the enactment of Legislative Decree 3 December 2010, no. 205 – in force since December 25, 2010 – which transposed European Directive 2008/98/EC on waste into Italian law.

The directive establishes how waste should be managed within the European Union. The primary objective of the directive is to protect the environment and human health by preventing the potential negative and dangerous effects deriving from the production and management of waste. According to the directive, greater protection of the environment requires the implementation of a series of measures, applicable in order of priority: 1) prevention of waste; 2) preparation for re-use; 3) recycling; 4) other types of recovery (for example of energy); 5) disposal. This means that, first of all, we must think about preventing waste, avoiding (if possible) producing it; if this is not possible, adequate (environmentally and economically sustainable) measures are taken to reuse it, after which it is recycled and so on. Every member state of the European Union can implement further legislative measures to strengthen (make stricter) this hierarchy, but the important thing is that human health is always guaranteed, and the environment is respected. Anyone who produces or stores waste is obliged to ensure it is treated, or it must deliver it to someone else in charge and authorized to do so. In particular, the storage and treatment of hazardous waste must follow an even more stringent waste disposal code than non-hazardous waste, so as to avoid any risk to human health and the environment. Moreover, since the production of waste is on the increase in Europe, in tandem with the growth of the industrialization process and the consequent widespread level of well-being, legislation calls for strengthening the measures for the prevention and reduction of related impacts and to encourage waste recovery.

Presidential Decree 915 of 10 September 1982, issued in implementing EEC directives no. 75/442 (relating to hazardous waste), no. 76/403 (relating to the disposal of polychlorinated biphenyls and polychlorotrophenyls) and no. 78/319 (relating to waste in general) is a “framework” decision in which the following are stated:

  • the general principles to be observed;
  • the classification of waste;
  • the areas of competence attributed to the State (address and coordination), to the Regions (planning, issuing organizations, waste register and issuing of specific regulations), to the Provinces (control) and to the Municipalities (disposal of municipal solid waste);
  • the general criteria for regulating waste disposal activities;
  • tax, financial and sanctioning provisions.

The system introduced by this Decree was based on the management of waste by eliminating it without enhancing the possibility of re-use and recycling. For this and for other reasons, various Governments have resorted to repeated emergency interventions, aimed at limiting the production of waste and favouring those waste management activities that Presidential Decree 915/1982 had neglected to promote. Legislative Decree 5 February 1997, no. 22, (the so-called “Ronchi Decree”) containing provisions implementing directives 91/156/EEC on waste, 91/689/EEC on hazardous waste and 94/62/EC on packaging and packaging waste, the legislator, taking the initiative from the need to implement the new European directives in our legal system, attempted a reorganization of the entire legislation.

The Ronchi Decree defined waste as “any substance or object which the holder discards or has decided or is obliged to discard”. First, this definition presupposes that any goods are destined, sooner or later, to become waste. Secondly, it is clear that the transformation from goods to waste depends above all on the will of those in possession of the waste.
Waste is classified, depending on its origin, as municipal and special waste, as well as, based on the level of danger as, hazardous waste and non-hazardous waste.
By way of example, municipal waste covers domestic/household waste, including that coming from street sweeping or vegetation from green spaces, whereas legislation regards special waste as that deriving from demolition, construction, industrial processing, recovery and disposal.
Turning instead to the management of waste, it is good to remember that any treatment leads only to a transformation of the waste and/or its transfer from one physical state to another but, in no case, to its destruction (the law of conservation of mass). Therefore, the most appropriate approach with regard waste is its reduction upstream, which means producing as little as possible trying to use everything several times (as happened in the past). The Decree was written based on these principles. To achieve these objectives, it is essential to make citizens and producers aware. If an upstream reduction or re-use of the materials is not possible, it is necessary to sort waste that cannot be recovered from that which can be sent for recycling.
Legislative Decree 152 of 2006 entered into force on 22 April 2006, at the same time repealed the Ronchi Decree. Waste management is the subject of the fourth part of Legislative Decree 152/2006 which, in implementation of Directive 2008/98/EC, provides for measures to “protect the environment and human health”, with the aim of preventing and reducing the “negative impacts of production and waste management” and those concerning the use of resources.
Waste management involves activities of public interest for which they must be organised without endangering human health and without using procedures or methods that could harm the environment. On that point, in the current text in force, Article 177, paragraph 4, provides that such management must take place:

  • “Without causing risks for water, air, soil, as well as for fauna and flora”;
  • “Without causing nuisance through noise or smells”;
  • “Without damaging the landscape and places of special interest, protected under current legislation”;

Article 178 lists, in this regard, the principles on the basis of which waste management must be carried out, which must take place in accordance with the criteria of precaution, prevention, sustainability, proportionality, responsibility and cooperation of all those involved in the production, in the distribution, use and consumption of goods from which the waste originates, as well as the principle that the “polluter pays”.
Article 179 provides for, in any case, a hierarchy, i.e. an order of priority in the environmental options, provided by the State, regions, provinces and local authorities, which is as follows:

  • prevention;
  • preparation for re-use;
  • recycling;
  • other types of recovery (for example, energy recovery);
  • disposal

This means that, in accordance with the aforementioned order, all measures must be taken to encourage choices that guarantee the best overall result, also taking into account any health, social and economic impacts.
With reference to the delicate recycling sector, article 181 states that, based on the indications provided by the Ministry of the Environment, the Regions shall establish the criteria by which the municipalities must carry out the collection and sorting of waste.
Legislation also requires the competent bodies to take all the necessary measures to achieve, by 2020, a 50% increase in the preparation for re-use and recycling of waste such as paper, metals, plastic and glass from private households and 70% in the preparation for re-use, recycling and other types of recovery of non-hazardous construction and demolition waste.
Finally, in terms of waste disposal, it must be carried out under safe conditions and constitute the residual phase of its management, subject to verification by the competent authority of the technical and economic impossibility of performing recovery operations.
For this reason, waste destined for eventual disposal must be as “reduced” as possible both in mass and in volume, promoting prevention and re-use, recycling and recovery activities and giving, where possible, priority for that non-recoverable waste generated as part of recycling or recovery activities.