separate waste collection
in an area with 3.3 million
of recovered waste
the share of separate waste
collected, in favour of a circular
tons of recycled plastic
produced by Aliplast

Special waste: similar-to-municipal waste, hazardous and non-hazardous

When one talks about waste, usually household rubbish immediately comes to mind. However, in reality, household rubbish does not even represent 20% of all waste produced.

Indeed, in Italy, where a total over 160 million tonnes of waste is produced each year, more than 130 million is special waste, i.e. waste generated by production activities, while around 30 million tonnes are municipal waste (household and non-household waste). In Emilia-Romagna, out of over 11.4 million tonnes of waste produced in total, around 2.9 million are municipal waste.

Urban and special waste production by province (2014) (thousands of tonnes)
Area Municipal waste RNon-hazardous special waste (excluding C&D, construction and demolition) Hazardous special waste Total special waste (excluding non-hazardous C&D) Total waste
Modena 437 1827 70 1.898 2.335
Bologna 562 1156 169 1.324 1.886
Ferrara 225 734 47 781 1.006
Ravenna 281 1195 153 1.347 1.628
Forlì-Cesena 275 552 30 582 857
Rimini 244 276 65 341 585
Total of provinces in Hera’s service area 2.024 5.740 533 6.273 8.297
Piacenza 184 371 106 477 661
Parma 248 782 33 815 1.063
Reggio Emilia 400 1013 41 1.054 1.454
Total Emilia-Romagna Region 2.856 7.905 714 8.619 11.475

Source: MW: ISPRA, Centro Nazionale per il ciclo dei rifiuti – Catasto dei Rifiuti  (data at February 2018); SW: Portale Dati Ambientali ER

Despite its quantitative predominance, special waste becomes almost invisible in the collective imagination as it is far removed from daily life and also because of the different way it must be treated, by law.

In fact, municipal waste must be collected and disposed of in the Region in which it is generated at a cost, for the general public, that is pre-set by the Water and Waste Regulatory Authorities. Conversely, special waste must be disposed of by and at the expense of its producer and therefore companies use the operators that best cater to their needs, also economically speaking.

Special waste is therefore often transported quite far from where it is actually produced: to other provinces, other regions or even abroad. Over the years, this lower visibility, often coupled with a smaller degree of traceability, has been reflected in strategic planning deficiencies with regard to disposal plants, and unfortunately this tends to lead to illegal forms of disposal, which for years has filled the coffers of the so-called environmental mafia.

The ER Region, in its Regional Waste Management Plan approved in spring 2016, has identified and verified the need for special waste disposal and treatment capacity, comparing the demand with the capacity of existing plants to meet this need or equivalent quantities. With DGR 987/2017 the same Region has updated the assessment of the needs that is increased especially for the disposal to landfill of special hazardous and non-hazardous waste.

Under Italian law, waste is classified on the basis of the place it was generated homes or factories) and not on its physical, chemical or product-related characteristics.

Legislative Decree 152/2006 classifies waste as urban or special on the basis of its origin, and, only downstream of this initial classification, according to its level of hazardousness, they are defined as hazardous or non-hazardous.

Municipal waste is household waste (inclusive of bulky waste) produced by homes, waste from cleaning streets and other public places, plant waste from green areas and any type of waste dumped or present in public areas, including beaches and riverbanks, whose production cannot be traced to a specific source. Also classed as municipal waste is non-hazardous special waste originating in premises and places not used for dwelling, that is similar-to-municipal waste in terms of quality and quantity according to the Municipal Regulations (or according to the regulations of supra-municipal authorities – Atesir) on the basis of the general guidelines set by the State; this waste is special in terms of origin but, after being ruled similar-to-municipal, it is handled (collected or disposed of) together with domestic municipal waste and subject to the corresponding tariffs or taxes (now called TA.RI.).

Special waste is waste from agricultural, construction, artisanal, industrial, sanitary, commercial and services activities, waste coming from waste recovery and disposal activities (therefore also the waste coming from treatment of non-separated municipal waste), water treatment sludge, mining or decontamination.

Waste is classified as hazardous or non-hazardous depending on the substances it contains. Hazardous municipal waste is made up of domestic waste that contains levels of pollutants or toxic substances such that they have to be disposed of in special plants (e.g. pharmaceuticals and batteries). Hazardous special waste is generated by production activities and contains the aforementioned pollutants or toxic substances.

In June 2015, the European and national criteria used to classify the hazard characteristics to waste were updated with reference to the regulation on criteria for hazardous substances (the so-called Regulation (EC) No. 1272/2008 on Classification, Labelling and Packaging).  EU Regulation 1357/2014 applies to the assignment of HP hazard properties (except HP 14) and Decision 2014/995/EU with the new European waste list (EER, ex CER) already applied and consolidated.  From 5 July 2018, EU Regulation 2017/997 will be in force for the attribution of the HP 14 hazard property.

For all these new developments, the Group has implemented and developed specific activities to adapt and update the classification and homologation criteria for the waste it manages.

The line between municipal waste and special waste is therefore set by the regulations defined by national law and applied at optimal municipal and/or area level.

Until the national standard is issued, each municipality may independently define the criteria for identifying waste from production, commercial and service activities as being similar-to-municipal waste. The more waste that is similar-to-municipal, the less special waste is left to be handled by the private sector with the risk of lower levels of control and traceability. In the areas served by the Hera Group, and in Emilia-Romagna in general, there is a high level of production of similar-to-municipal waste: the waste handled by the public service is estimated to comprise 50% waste of domestic origin and 50% waste of non-domestic origin, i.e. similar-to-municipal special waste. It is also estimated that there are around 1.5 million tonnes of similar-to-municipal special waste that due to its characteristics (i.e. non-hazardous) is not processed as similar-to-municipal because it is produced by a single manufacturer in quantities above the set limit. Unlike the method used in Italy, in Europe the classification of waste is more directly related to its level hazardousness and to the type of treatment it undergoes.

Non-hazardous waste Hazardous waste
Municipal waste Domestic waste (dry and organic)

Waste from the cleaning of streets and other public places

Waste similar to-municipal wastei assimilati agli urbani

Batteries, lead accumulators

Environmentally harmful packaging

TVs, monitors, fridges, air conditioning units and lamps

Mineral oils

Special waste Waste from agricultural and agro-industrial activities

Inert materials and bricks (from construction and demolition businesses)

Commercial and industrial packaging

Plastics and glass processing waste

Artisanal and industrial

Coming from waste recovery and disposal operations, including municipal waste

Petrochemical and pharmaceutical production waste

Metallic waste

Sludge from reclamation activities

Used oils

Medical and veterinary research waste