The reuse of auxiliary materials, and of plastic materials in particular, from the agro-food sector has proved to be a complex issue. The University of Pescara has conducted a related study focused on the Fucino upland, in the Abruzzo region, Italy. This is one of the most important and productive agro-food complexes in the Country, which, during the last fifty years, has also attracted a wide range of industries (most of which are SMEs) providing services and auxiliary products.
The challenge that led researchers to focus on the study of potential symbiotic exchanges in the region was to try to find a sustainable solution to valorise and revitalise the agro-industrial network.
The main barrier to the identification and implementation of new symbiotic exchanges in the region was Italian waste legislation, which does not allow companies to directly handle their waste. In addition, waste derived from agro-food industry generally requires expensive treatment (washing treatments in particular) before being reused. Finally, Fucino region presents a high degree of homogeneity of industrial sectors and production processes, as well as a huge concentration of very small and family-owned companies.
The approach used in this case to overcome such barriers was to try to engage waste treatment companies in the project, in order to legally allow waste exchanges, also providing needed treatment to the whole area (allowing therefore some economies of scale). Some companies belonging to different sectors and operating in the surroundings were also contacted in order to increase diversity.
The discovery process was mainly divided into two different phases. First, researchers conducted a preliminary desk analysis, identifying existing symbiotic exchanges in the agro-food sector described in literature and also conducting an analysis of the local economy. Then, they proceeded with an online survey, in collaboration with the local Association of Agricultural Producers and a waste management platform. The results of this survey were used to identify main waste flows as well as potential new uses within the district. A first feasibility assessment of identified symbiotic solutions was conducted and then results were presented to local companies. Feedback provided during these presentations were further elaborated in order to assess potential and limits of each new exchange. An analysis of neighbouring business (companies located in the surroundings and mainly belonging to different industrial sectors) was also conducted. Companies that seemed more likely to be engaged in the Industrial Symbiosis development project were then contacted in order to understand if they could be interested in using some of the waste from the Fucino region as alternative raw material.
The main preconditions that allowed the identification of new symbiotic exchanges in the area were the fact that the Fucino upland is a restricted geographical area and the fact that there was already a local waste management platform operating in the area, which allowed to considerably speed up data gathering activities. In addition, waste is produced by agricultural processes in specific periods of the year, which can make waste management activities more efficient. Most of the waste produced in the area is represented by non-hazardous, easily recyclable materials, such as plastic, metal, paper, etc. Finally, external stakeholders and the Association of Agricultural Producers in particular provided support and facilitated the dialogue with participating companies.
Source: Simboli, A., Taddeo, R., Morgante, A., 2015. “The potential of Industrial Ecology in agri-food clusters (AFCs): A case study based on valorisation of auxiliary materials”. Ecological Economics 111:65-75.
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