Italy, a Circular Economy Champion

Italy, a Circular Economy Champion


“If we all did the things we are really capable of, we would literally astound ourselves.” The words of Thomas Edison – the legendary and prolific American inventor– are quoted at the start of the 100 Italian Circular Economy Stories study carried out by the Fondazione Symbola with our Group.

And there is much to be astounded about in Italy, particularly if we’re talking about the circular economy. Our country actually leads the sector, as revealed in the data collected as part of the study and presented on Wednesday, December 15th at the Maxxi (museum) in Rome.



Europe’s top player

Italy, for example, has the highest percentage of overall waste recycling of any European nation – at 79.4%, we are well ahead of the EU average (49%) and all of the other larger European countries (France 66%, Germany 69%). This means that we recycle a massive 117 million tons of waste each year, around 50% of which is turned into materials that can be reused in the construction and infrastructure sectors, while a further 30% or so goes into the manufacturing industry. Thanks to these materials, in addition to those recovered in-house by industries and those that are imported, Italian industry’s circularity rate (the ratio of recycled secondary materials to total materials - raw and secondary –used) is around 50%.

Furthermore, because we use 270.5 tons of materials per million euros produced – which is almost half of the figure of a decade ago and much lower than Germany’s 333.9 tons – we are also the most efficient large European Union nation in terms of material consumption. This efficiency translates to hefty savings in the oil used (23 million tons per year) and CO2 emissions (63 million tons). 

The human factor and beauty

Figures, however, tell only one side of Italy’s story as the circular economy’s top player. As our Chief Innovability® Officer Ernesto Ciorra pointed out during the presentation, people lie at the very center of the process: “Circularity of skills is no less important than raw materials. As a Group, we feel a sense of responsibility to constantly update the skills of the people working for us so that they too can become actors of change.” In addition to its people, our country enjoys a competitive advantage because of our passion for beauty, because “this attitude to beauty can be turned into an industrial process that extracts new lymph for the future from waste.” A good example of this is the conversion of the former Porto Tolle thermoelectric power plant on the Po Delta into the Delta Farm eco tourist village. 

The Circular Economy: so many Italian stories

Another reason why Italy is so virtuous is the many small and large circular economy stories that are adding richness to the fabric of the national production scene. Working with the Fondazione Symbola, we have found no less than 241 such stories, scattered the entire length of the Peninsula, 100 of which have been included in the study. This shows that Made in Italy is focusing on both quality and innovation from a circular perspective. The study investigated a wide array of different sectors from the agri-food to fashion, packaging, mechanical engineering, wood-furniture, building, electronics and chemical industries: they were selected because they are of their relevance on the Italian economic scene. Most of the cases detailed touch on more than one of the Five Pillars of the circular economy:

  1. Circular input: production begins with renewable materials or goods or those coming from previous life cycles.
  2. Extension of the useful life of the product: this is achieved in various ways from modular design to making products easier to repair.
  3. Product as service: a business model in which the client purchases a service for a limited time, while the product remains the property of the company which then reuses it efficiently.  
  4. Shared platform: shared management systems for multiple product, goods or skills users.  
  5. New life cycles: a strategy that ensures products retain their value throughout their life cycle through reuse, regeneration, upcycling or recycling.  

So, sifting through the pages of the report, we find, for instance, furniture made from post-consumer or recyclable materials and designed to be easily disassembled at the end of their life (Arper), e-commerce sites specializing in hiring out clothes, shoes and accessories (DressYouCan), online platforms for sharing construction materials, machinery and equipment (Edilmag), and innovative technologies for mechanically and chemically recycling waste (NextChem).

The 100 stories contained in this study should also stimulate increasing awareness of our Country’s potential, Fondazione Symbola’s President Ermete Realacci was keen to stress: “Italy can make an important contribution to the climate crisis challenge, starting with the circular economy. Tackling the climate crisis with courage is a huge opportunity both for the economy and society.”