According to the “Italy of the Recycling 2017” report, the recycling sector, with 8.4 million tonnes of waste being recycled and an average growth over the previous year of the 3%, has reached a value of 23 billion Euros, which is equivalent to 1% of the country’s GDP. The reuse of recovered waste materials, through the separation of urban waste, is a brilliant example of the advantages of the circular economy: at the end of their life cycle, products and materials are processed and transformed into new resources, from which to generate new consumer goods. There are many positive aspects: the reduction of the cost of raw materials, the minimization of the quantity of waste going to landfills and, last but not least, the reduction of environmental pollution. Plastic is at the top of the most recycled materials in Italy; according to the data collected by Legambiente and the Corepla Consortium, 550 out of the 960 thousand tonnes of plastic waste collected have been reused, thus avoiding their accumulation in landfill and their dispersion into the environment.
According to the 2017 Agi-Censis Report, “The culture of Innovation”, the most important answers to confront the complex challenge of sustainability and the decarbonisation of the economy will come from innovation. In regards to this, according to the data contained in this report, among the infrastructures that are most appreciated by Italians, we can find photovoltaic parks with a percentage of 82.4%, high-speed railway stations (76.4%), and wind farms (73.3%). While among those that are the least appreciated, in the first place are oil refineries with the 77%, followed by the coal-fired power plants (76.5%) and chemical or metal-mechanical plants (63%). There is therefore confidence in new technologies and new discoveries: the 65.6% of Italians are deeply convinced that we will all become producers of energy, thus generating a “smart-grid” scenario, in which it will no longer be only consumption to unite us, but also production. The 57.6% of the respondents stated that they were confident that, thanks to innovation, we would soon have all the energy that we need without significant impacts on the environment. There is a deep and widespread conviction that over the next thirty years we will witness and participate in profound changes in the energy scenarios: according to some people, it will be a manageable change, while according to others, this change will be predominant in regards to energy resources and it will give rise to an increase in social gaps.
Extreme climatic events (typhoons, heatwaves, and floods), natural disasters, ecosystem collapse with loss in biodiversity, human inability to mitigate the effects of global warming: environmental risks are the most alarming topic under discussion. This is what has emerged for the second consecutive year from the global Risks Report, published by the World Economic Forum on occasion of the last meeting in Davos. It is interesting to notice how the perception of risk has changed over the last ten years: during the period 2008-2010, the economy and the geopolitics were the unknowns that dominated the scene. On the contrary, from 2011 onwards, the environmental issues have gained the first place, with a peak of concern recorded between 2017 and 2018. Climatic change is ultimately changing the risk management strategies of big companies and of public-private institutions all around the world. In particular, many energy utilities are aware that in a few years they could lose huge profits due to the obsolete and no longer profitable existing infrastructure, such as coal-fired power plants. As a result, the so-called “carbon risk”, the financial risk associated with global pollution and CO 2 emissions, is gaining increasing importance in the investment decisions of banks, governments and fund managers.
The European Parliament has approved new binding targets at the European level. They expect «a 35% improvement in energy efficiency, a minimum share of at least 35% of energy from renewable sources in the gross final energy consumption and a 12% share of energy from renewable sources in transport by 2030». In order to achieve these objectives, the Member States of the European Union «are encouraged to establish the necessary national measures, which will be monitored according to new rules of governance of the Energy Union». 35% is the minimum target that is required by the environmental organizations and the renewables companies, and it is anyway a step ahead compared to the previous 27% target that was set by the European Commission. The binding 35% target for renewable energy has been approved with 492 votes in favour, 88 against and 107 abstentions and the MEPs state that «in 2030, the share of renewable energy must be equal to the 35% of the energy consumption of the European Union. National objectives should also be established, from which the Member States would be allowed to deviate, under certain conditions, up to a maximum of 10%».
The European Commission declares war against plastic waste. The new plan for the complete recycling of plastic packaging by 2030 includes a clearer labelling to distinguish compostable and biodegradable polymers, rules for the separate collection of waste on ships, and waste management in ports. The strategy aims to reduce the 25 million tons of plastic waste produced per year in Europe, by increasing the share of plastic residues destined to recycling and reuse, which is today only 30% of the total. At the moment, a significant portion of this percentage is eventually treated by third markets, such as China, which has, however, announced a crackdown on the import of plastic waste. All plastic packaging placed on the EU market must be designed to be reusable and recyclable by 2030. In order to reach the set-goal, the Commission intends to review the legislative requirements for placing of the packaging on the market. New fundings are foreseen as a support to this strategy and spending will be mainly on research and development, with 100 million euros invested by 2020. Finally, the intentionally used microplastics will move towards a total ban, while the measures to reduce unintentional ones, such as tire wear rubber particles or polyester and nylon residues, released into washing waters, are still under study.