Composting in Italy, key indicators Stampa
Giovedì 20 Aprile 2006 10:05
Massimo Centemero
Coordinator of the Technical Committee
Translated and modified by David Newman, August 2005

Using data recently published in the annual Waste Report by the Agency for Environmental Protection and the National Waste Observatory for 2004, we are able to provide some key indicators to the composting system in Italy, as well as offer our reading of future trends.


The number of composting plants has now grown beyond 200 in 2003 reached a total of 258. These are composting plants producing quality compost from selected organic wastes, as defined by the law on soil improvers, n. 748/84.

Data on the growth of composting plants show a continual upward trend since 1993 (fig 1) as well as a consequential growth in the amount of organic waste treated. The blue column shows the number of plants, the red line the amount of organic waste treated.



The distribution of plants throughout the country is very uneven.

Figure 2 shows how a greater number of plants are concentrated in the northern regions (dark green); the Lombardy, Emilia Romagna and Veneto regions  in particular treat over 1.500.000 t/year of organic waste, about half of what is treated throughout Italy. However we have begun to see development of organic waste treatment in the south of Italy as well even though the growth of separate waste collection is a very slow process.

The development of organic waste recovery in the south of Italy is necessary, we believe, for a series of reasons:

-         the amount of organic waste contained in MSW in the south is    higher than in northern Italy;

-         In the south of Italy there is a  greater production of organic waste from the transformation of agricultural products (citrus fruits, horticulture, olives, vines etc) and these require adequate disposal and treatment;

-      The southern regions require the substitution of more organic substance in their soils due to the process of desertification, and the potential market for compost products from organic waste is enormous.



Urban waste and composting

The total amount of biomasses treated in composting plants in 2003 was about 2.700.000 t. Of these wastes the relative importance of organic waste collected separately in cities has grown steadily over the years. (see figure 3). These include wastes from parks, gardens as well as kitchen and catering wastes from households, restaurants and collective catering sources. About 76% of composted organic wastes derive from source separated collection in urban areas, whilst the remaining 24% derives from agro-industrial processes and sludge.

fig. 3

The introduction of law 22 in 1997, created binding objectives for local governments in terms of recycled materials and source separated collection. The separate collection of organic waste has made a substantial contribution towards the achievement of these objectives as it comprises between 30 and 40% of all MSW.


Only compost produced from source separated collection can be sold as a soil improver so the importance of the pre-selection and separate collection of organic waste needs to be emphasised.



The table below  shows the most significant data on the composting system in Italy

Compost plants in Italy


Organic waste treated

2.724.000 t

Urban household organic waste from source separated collection

980.000 t

Green or garden waste treated

817.000 t

Amount of urban waste still disposed of in landfill

51,2 % (58,9 nel 2002)

Amount of urban waste destined to compost production

7,6 % (nel 2002 il 5,6%)

Potential capacity of existing compost plants

5.400.000 t

Quantity of waste treated in 2003

2.700.000 t

Compost produced in 2003

850-900.000 t

Average capacity size of plants

22.000 t

Average amount treated in plants

11.000 t


It is difficult to keep track of all the compost leaving plants across Italy, and we are talking about compost produced and sold as soil improvers according the relative laws 748/84 and  updates

From the data we do possess, annual production of compost in 2004 appears to have been about 900.000 t. Recently the National Statistics Office, which is defining its methodology for this research, published data on the total production of fertilizers in Italy from 1998 to 2003. From these data among all the varieties of fertilizers sold, only composted soil improvers have shown a substantial growth in market share. In that period sales quadrupled. This must be related to the increase in compost produced over that same period. Analysing this information further we find that compost makes up over 50% of all soil improvers sold. These and other data confirm that the sector has grown rapidly in these years and that this new product has conquered markets above all in agriculture, (field crops) and also in the production of planting medium for household plants and gardens.

From figure 5 we can see that about half of all compost produced goes into agriculture where it substitutes manures, rapidly becoming less available on the Italian market.


fig. 5

Compost is used therefore as a technical instrument among the many needed in agriculture, and is a new product in the wide range of products used as fertilizers. Its production standards are subjected to continuous and rigorous controls which have led to the creation of confidence among end users.

The development of the market for compost

Market conditions for compost products are favourable and show a growing confidence from operators especially towards compost produced from source separated urban waste.

The use of compost is diversified: from gardening to field crops to horticulture. Today a large part of the production, which comes from northern Italy, is sold  either wholesale or retail, for domestic gardening uses, for commercial garden centres and for flower growers.

Often compost is mixed with peat material to improve its quality a san artificial soil for growth in vases and flower beds. In these cases the prices vary between 5-10 Euro/m3, for wholesale of unpacked products, to 100 Euro/m3,   for soil improvers packaged and retailed.

At times compost is given away free to users. It happens for example, when a public authority manages the compost plant and does not have a marketing strategy,  relying simply on making savings for the community in terms of avoiding landfill costs. However, we note that more often today the plant managers are exploiting the opportunities the market provides by creating their own sales and marketing team.

The CIC Quality Label

CIC quality label CIC is the Italian National Association for the compost industry. Using a model already successfully in place in other European countries, such as the (“Bundesgütegemeinschaft  Kompost” –in Germany, or VLACO in Belgium, or KGVÖ in  Austria, etc.) CIC has created a quality control system to certify the quality of composted products in order to enhance confidence building in the market. 

Since the Spring of 2004 Italy therefore has its quality label and system which has been developed following a detailed analysis of market requirements and methodology. By the summer of 2005 15 companies have obtained the certification level and others are in the process of analysis. We consider this to be a very important initiative for the industry because it provides an independent element of security upon which consumers and operators can make their choices. We are currently studying the possibility of certifying the entire production  process and above all  (as requested by consumers) the traceability of compost.

A recent opportunity

Following EU guidelines and directives regarding Green Public Procurement, Italy also adopted its own laws on the question in 2003 with the publication of law 203. This has been followed by the publication in March 2005 of the technical criteria required for the application of GPP to compost products, these being considered as material derived from post-consumption. This has created an interesting opportunity both for public authorities which now need to apply the GPP norms, as well as to composting plants able to create new markets for their products.

In fact the law says that public authorities must purchase up to 30% of their needs buying products made from recycled materials. The law currently applies to paper, fabrics, tyres, plastic and compost.

This potential market is to be found in the maintenance of public gardens, roadsides, parks etc.


Whilst it may appear evident from the data given on composting plant capacity that the Italian system suffers an over capacity of plant, this has recently (2005) been shown to be an erroneous interpretation of the numbers. In fact, total capacity shown often hides the fact that plants are authorised to treat far more than technically they are able. Moreover, many plants are approaching a period of restructuring as they deteriorate after 5 or more years of constant operation. Further, the application of the Landfill Directive in Italy, which is imminent in 2005, has created the need to disposal sites for new quantities of organic materials which can no longer be landfilled. Many regional governments are pushing source separated collection of organic waste in central and southern regions, where the plant capacity is insufficient. Ironically therefore we are experiencing a plant shortage. This created an increased transport of waste from region to region, increased gate fees, and the risk that many local authorities will withdraw from recycling projects as they see their costs rise. Urgent regional government planning and intervention is required to ensure new plants are built, in all regions. On the basis of data available for projected organic waste production in 2010, we require the building of over 200 plants in Italy in the next five years.

Ultimo aggiornamento Giovedì 20 Aprile 2006 10:39

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