According to the European Environment Agency (EEA, 2008), the amount of waste in general is increasing in the EU. Europe generates 1.8 billion tonnes/year of waste, 40 million tonnes of which is made up of noxious substances. The EU is seeking an overall reduction in waste levels by 2020, including a target of achieving of 50% recycling of urban solid waste. The EU generates 88 million tonnes/year of biodegradable organic waste (BOW) material (food waste, garden and public park waste). The average citizen generates 150 kg/yr of BOW. If sent to landfill, biodegradable waste releases noxious substances as a result of natural degradation, causing soil and groundwater pollution and spreading large amounts of the greenhouse gas, methane. The EU Landfill Directive (1999/31/CE) requires that the amount of biodegradable organic waste be reduced by 65% compared to 1995 levels, by 2016. According to a report by the EU Environmental Impact of Products (EIPRO) scheme – examining the life cycle environmental impacts related to final consumption – 40% of CO2 emissions are caused by the distribution and consumption of food. Better management of food or organic waste will therefore have a positive impact on energy consumption and soil degradation.
The NOW project’s overall objective was to promote the prevention, recovery and recycling of waste produced by organised large-scale distribution, with a particular focus on organic (i.e. food) waste and thus contribute to reducing CO2 emissions.
The specific objectives were to:
The NOW project demonstrated the benefits of the circular economy with regards to waste collection services while promoting social integration. Unsold food products, still suitable for consumption, were redistributed to those in need instead of being disposed of as organic waste.
In the project lifetime, 1 500 tonnes of food were recovered and donated to local stakeholders thanks to the formal involvement of 26 supermarkets in the Province of Brescia. Around 70 charities benefitted from this ‘food bank’ and 5 000 people received food every week. This meant that the energy and the resources used to produce and distribute these food products were not wasted and that the environmental costs of disposing of them as organic waste were avoided.
Specifically, the project led to the recovery of 1 513 tonnes of organic waste, around 25% of the total amount produced in the 26 outlets involved in the project. It also led to a 60% increase in the amount of differentiated waste, and reductions in environmental footprints. It was estimated that for every kilogramme of recovered cooked or raw product, the consumption of resources on more than 30 m2 of land is avoided. On this basis, it can be estimated that the NOW project contributed to the saving of more than 45 million m2 of land.
Furthermore, according to the Water Footprint Network, for every kilogramme of food produced, 2.5 m3 of water is needed on average. It can therefore be calculated that more than 3 750 000 m3of water were saved with the NOW process. Carbon footprints are also reduced by this process. It has also been calculated that to produce one kilogramme of food, about 4.5 kg of CO2 are emitted in the atmosphere. The amount food recovered by the NOW project thus avoided the production of more than 6 750 tonnes of CO2.
The reintroduction of food products benefitted the poorest sections of society, as well as generating social benefits and economic savings for the charitable associations involved in the project. Around 60 volunteers helped with the transportation, preparation and distribution services and 22 CAUTO (the beneficiary) staff members were involved.
Overall, 16 new job positions were created, four of which for disadvantaged people. Both the retailers and the charitable associations benefitted from the addition of CAUTO as an intermediate body in the organic waste management chain. Charities were guaranteed a constant supply of food while the retailers benefitted from the reduction in waste and in the corresponding environmental impact. It also generated an economic benefit. It was calculated that €150 was saved per tonne of waste in the NOW process. Furthermore, the involved stakeholders (retailers, municipalities, charities) understood the mutual benefits of this process, thus preparing the ground for a gradual scale up of the model.
The NOW food bank is the first example in Italy of a process for redistributing surplus food from mass retailers. It achieved a wide visibility through the organisation of 37 demonstration days. Additionally, 61 school classes were linked with the project and 85 agreements were signed with municipalities, mass retailers and municipal waste agencies.
The project idea can be transferred to other cities or regions in Italy and elsewhere in the EU, taking into account the local administrative and legal constraints. Several social cooperatives in Italy deal with waste management. Here the NOW model could be replicated easily, provided that there are proper financial resources necessary to set up the distribution chain. The implementation of a logistic platform at the CAUTO's premises was in effect crucial to optimise the organic waste selection and donation strategy. The use of cold storage vehicles maintained high standards of food safety. The ability to invest in such infrastructures and equipment was possible because CAUTO handles significant volumes of waste. This investment was therefore considered useful for the future. Smaller non-for-profit organisations, on the other hand, may not be able to invest such amounts of money. Nevertheless, three new charities have already agreed to join the NOW process.
Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Communication Plan (see "Read more" section).