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'Waste-eating robot' could help reduce biowaste mountain  


An Italian project supported by the European Union's LIFE+ programme is exploring an innovative solution to a problem that all municipal authorities face: biodegradeable waste. The Landfill Directive (1999/31/EC) requires EU countries to reduce the amount of biodegradable municipal waste that they landfill to 35% of 1995 levels by 2016 (for some countries by 2020), but management of this waste - especially food waste - remains a huge problem, especially where a high proportion of biodegradeable waste is sent to landfill.

The NOWASTE project targets biodegradable waste produced by households. The project is testing what it calls a “waste-eating robot” - a household anaerobic appliance, half the size of a dishwasher, into which kitchen waste can be put. The machine shreds and compacts the waste, separates liquids from solid matter and creates a “pre-compost” that can be collected by municipalities as part of their regular waste collection rounds. According to the project, the machine, developed by IRSSAT (Istituto di Ricerca, Sviluppo e Sperimentazione sull’Ambiente ed il Territorio), also blocks food-waste odours and is self-cleaning.

Perhaps the key innovation from the NOWASTE scheme, however, is not the machine itself, but the opportunity it offers to municipalities as the basis for a collection system for the compost, which can then be sold for agricultural use, or for the production of biogas. Municipalities can in principle raise money from these activities, which can be returned to citizens in the form of lower charges for public services. Giuseppe Lo Bianco, president of IRSSAT, says that the scheme could be “applied in all the areas where separate waste collection is already implemented and the public system works well,” and is a “coherent approach in line with circular economy principles.”

So far, the project has tested the home composting machine with about 75 families in Sicily. The project will soon extend to about 1000 families to scale up the analysis of costs and revenues. Ultimately, Lo Bianco says, a further project could be envisaged, with much wider roll-out, that will test a closed system in which all household biodegradable waste will be converted into compost or biogas, generating revenues that will pay for the collection system. Municipalities will also benefit from reduced landfilling, meaning they will spend less on management of landfill sites.

The project has calculated that potential benefits could include a 70% reduction in the volume of biodegradable waste, a 65% reduction in waste collection and transport costs, and a 30-35% reduction in the total volume of waste sent to landfill. The project runs until the end of 2014, when a full assessment can be done of the viability of the potential enlarged NOWASTE scheme, and its combination of technology and organisational change.

NOWASTE project

Duration: September 2010 to December 2014

Partners: IRSSAT: Regione Siciliana, Environment Regional Department; municipalities of Gaggi, Castelmola and Melilli; Università degli Studi di Catania, Dipartimento di Economia e Metodi Quantitativi; BIO.MEDI srl.

Budget: €2,119,263 (EU contribution 50%)

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