Circular economy, Italy among the first places in Europe

Despite growing alarms about environmental crises, the global economy is experiencing a decrease in the rate of circularity: in just five years we have gone from 9.1% to 7.2%. In other words, our planet is recycling and reusing fewer resources. Among the top five economies of the European Union, Italy continues to be the most advanced country in terms of circular economy in Europe. However, over the past five years we have fallen behind as other states are moving faster: we cannot afford to rest on our laurels, more needs to be done to maintain our leadership.

Italy leads the way in circularity, but the percentage is decreasing

According to the latest available data for 2021, the rate of circular use of materials in Italy stands at 18.4%, still higher than the European Union average, which stops at 11.7%. Despite this, a downward trend can be seen compared to previous years: in 2020 we were at 20.6% and in 2019 at 19.5%.

Despite the decline in material circularity, Italy stands out for resource productivity, finding itself, together with France, in first place among the main European economies. In fact, 3.2 euros are generated for every kilogram of material consumed. Furthermore, we are also in the lead for the percentage of overall recycling of waste produced, including special and urban waste, with a value of 72%.

However, in the overall ranking of circularity among the five main economies of the European Union (Italy, Germany, France, Spain and Poland), in the last five years, Italy is losing positions. Spain, following close behind, is adopting a faster pace of change than Italy.

Accelerate the circular economy for a sustainable future

The data from which the analysis starts is worrying: the global economy burns over one hundred billion tons of materials a year. Therefore, accelerating the transition to the circular economy would help improve the conditions of the planet because the extraction of virgin material could decrease by over a third (-34%) and greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced by containing the increase in temperature climate within 2°C, safeguarding irreplaceable ecosystems that are fundamental for the life of our planet.

But there would also be substantial economic benefits. Starting with an important contribution to the fight against inflation which is fueled by increases in the cost of materials and energy: strategies aimed at recovering materials and energy have a clear deflationary effect.

Italy leads the circularity ranking of the main European economies

The overall ranking of circularity in the top five economies of the European Union (France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain) is based on seven indicators:

  1. waste recycling rate
  2. rate of use of material from recycling
  3. resource productivity
  4. relationship between waste production and material consumption
  5. share of energy from renewable sources in total gross energy consumption
  6. repair
  7. soil consumption

Also for this edition, Italy leads the standings, with 20 points. Followed by Spain (19 points), France (17), Germany (12) and Poland (9).

In general, considering the trend of recent years, Italy improves less than Poland, which starts from very low levels of circularity, and Spain which is running faster, while keeping the same pace as France and going a little faster fast than Germany.

Italy leader in waste recycling, but declining in the circularity of materials

The percentage of waste recycling in 2020 was 53% in Europe and 72% in Italy, one of the highest recycling rates in the EU. Compared to the other main European economies, in 2020 Italy consolidated its leadership, surpassing Germany by around 17 points. The growth rate over the last ten years is unchanged for the EU, while it has risen by 8% in Italy and 3% in Spain.

As for the per capita values, Italy is first with 969 kg/inhabitant per year sent for recyclingfollowed by Germany (921), Poland (726), France (625) and Spain (472).

However, the trend in the rate of use of materials from recycling is less positive, which represents the ratio between the circular use of materials and the overall use of virgin raw materials and recycled materials. In the EU in 2021 this value averaged 11.7%, -0.1% compared to 2020. For the first time, Italy in 2021 suffered a decline, settling at 18.4% (2 .2% less than the previous year), losing the lead among the five main European economies and being overtaken by France, in the lead with 1.4 percentage points more.

In 2021, on average in Europe, with purchasing power parity, 2.1 euros of GDP will be generated for every kg of resources consumed. Also for this indicator, Italy (-7% in the last two years) was joined by France, both at 3.2 €/kg. Germany follows (2.7 €/kg) and Spain (2.6 €/kg), while Poland remains distant with 0.8 €/kg.

Italy third in Europe for repair activities

In 2020, Italy ranks third among the five most important economies in Europe for repair activities, with almost 24,000 companies. However, it is overtaken by France (35,300 companies) and Spain (29,100). In the last ten years, there has been a decrease in companies in Italy, with 2,622 companies less than in 2011, corresponding to a decrease of almost 10%. A downward trend is also observed in Poland, while an increase is recorded in Spain, France and Germany.

Considering the production value generated by the repair companies, in Italy it exceeds 2.1 billion euros (+122 million euros approximately compared to 2011). We are behind France (4.5 billion euros), on an equal footing with Spain and ahead of Germany (2 billion euros). However, the number of employees in repair companies in Italy in 2020 is almost 10,800 (down by around 1,500 compared to 2019 and by around 2,300 compared to 2011), while Germany, Spain and France employ more than double the number of employees compared to Italy.

Italians show interest in the circular economy

During the Circular Economy Conference, a survey conducted by the Circular Economy Network and Legacoop in collaboration with IPSOS was presented, revealing the interest of Italians in the circular economy. The survey, conducted on a representative sample of citizens, shows that in the last three years almost half of those interviewed (45%) have purchased a used product, while a third (36%) has opted for a reconditioned or regenerated product. Furthermore, more than 80% of the people interviewed believe it is important to reduce the use of packaging.

However, young people under 30 are more skeptical about proposals to encourage a more circular approach to purchases and they show little confidence in the ability to improve the governance of the sector.

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