BioCycle February 2010, Vol. 51, No. 2, p. 33
Slow Food partners with a compostable product company to green its events, diverting organics from the landfill.
SLOW FOOD, a nonprofit organization established in Italy in 1989 to counteract proliferation of fast food, holds several events each year in Italy. The festivals are a celebration of food and culture, and now they are on track to becoming more sustainable, diverting organics from the landfill.
Slow Food has over 1,000 local chapters (called convivia) in 132 countries, with a total of more than 100,000 members. Although events are held all over the world, Italy is host to several of the largest festivals: the annual Terra Madre (“Mother Earth”), and the biennial events Salone del Gusto (“Hall of Taste”) and Slow Cheese. Starting in 2008, Slow Food launched an initiative to green its events. It entered into a multiyear partnership with Novamont, an Italian bioplastics producer, to progressively reduce the environmental impact of its events, targeting waste generation, packaging, furnishings, cutlery, logistics for transporting goods, CO2 emissions and energy and water resources.
The most recent event was the seventh annual Slow Cheese in the town of Bra in Northern Italy in September 2009. The event attracted 160,000 visitors, of which 50,000 (30 percent) came from outside of Italy.
Forty-five waste stations were strategically placed around the town to capture residuals, monitored by volunteers who helped direct patrons. Each waste station had five 240-liter (63.4-gallon) bins for source-separated materials: glass and metal, paper and cardboard, organics, plastic and trash. There were approximately 250 exhibitor booths, which all had 80-liter (21-gallon) bins, and kitchens had 30 collection points with 120-litre (31.7-gallon) bins. All organics bins were lined with compostable bags made from Novamont’s Mater-Bi® Resin.
Novamont, as part of its sponsorship, provided the bags, Mater-Bi cutlery, paper cups lined with Mater-Bi, along with compostable products from other manufacturers. “We provided 9,500 compostable bags, 180,000 pieces of cutlery and 10,500 paper cups,” says Christian Garaffa, Marketing Manager, Source Separation & Recycling for Novamont. “Also products from other manufacturers were sourced, such as 126,000 paper plates, bowls and trays, 273,000 PLA cups and bowls, and 72,000 wooden stick cutlery.”
Slow Food Italy events manager, Gabriele Cena, notes that environmental sustainability is connected to the overall mission of its events. “Our events are about promoting food that is good tasting, socially responsible and environmentally sound,” says Cena. “The exhibitors need to show that all aspects are linked, and organics are an important part of this because the output, food waste, becomes the input, compost.” He explains that Slow Food also purchases offsets for energy produced from biogas at farms, tents are reused to make bags and vehicles at the event are powered by methane, electric or hybrid as much as possible.
To avoid contamination from outside of the event, the municipality of Bra also cooperated with Novamont to source compostable products for shops and businesses. This was an important factor, considering that the event was not contained by a building or gates. Collected organics were hauled about 57 kilometers (35.4 miles) to ACEA Pinerolese Industriale SpA for composting. Located near Torino, ACEA uses a combination of technologies for processing organics. Incoming materials are shredded, screened and mixed prior to entering a first stage of thermophilic anaerobic digestion (AD). Digestate is screened prior to aerobic in-vessel composting for 90 days. Finished compost is given away to farmers.
Among the Slow Food events, Slow Cheese is one of the most challenging, given it is outdoors, not confined or separated from the surroundings and spread throughout the town. The overall diversion rate for Slow Cheese 2009, when including street sweepings, was 34 percent. Organics accounted for 7.3 percent of that diversion, or 4.7 metric tons. The organics stream was analyzed by the Forestry and Environment Institute. Three waste composition analyses were performed, based on specifications given by the regional regulation to determine contamination rate. The organics were spread out by a front-end loader on a platform, divided into three equal parts. Overall, there was an average of 11.3 percent contamination, with plastics accounting for the largest fraction at 7.3 percent.
Comparing the figures of supplied items and capture rates for the same items, it appears that the capture of PLA items was low, probably because of poor recognition, and thrown in the plastics containers. Conversely, the high contamination of PET bottles in the organics may have resulted from a perception that they were compostable PLA bottles.
Other observations from the waste analyses include a loss of compostable paper products from the organics stream, probably because of confusion over whether they should be included in the recyclable paper bin. “Containers will need better displays of the items to be disposed of, including color, shape and/or a sample item on top,” says Garaffa. “Also, the volunteers will be instructed to more closely monitor and control the sorting stations.”
Sidebar, page 34
The Slow Food Movement
IN A TELEVISED press conference at Slow Cheese 2009, connections were drawn between food consumption and production, and reducing the amount of food wasted. Carlo Petrini, founder of Slow Food, called for an end to the industrial logic that was destroying agricultural traditions, and related these issues to food waste. “Often consumers only think about price, while the refrigerator becomes a tomb for wasted food,” he says. “We must consume less. We must stop thinking about production and consumption as two different things.”
Luca Zaia, Italy’s Minister for Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies, picked up where Petrini left off, citing statistics about food waste in Italy. “Every year enough good food is thrown out to feed 600,000 people three meals a day,” he says, adding that more local, seasonal food should be consumed. Zaia recently installed a raw milk dispensary outside the Ministry of Agriculture in Rome, to show his support of fresh, nonpasteurized milk and refillable bottles.
In an interview after the press conference, Roberto Burdese, President of Slow Food Italy, discussed these connections with BioCycle, elaborating on food waste and composting. “Between 30 and 50 percent of the food we purchase is wasted, so we must start by reducing the amount we buy. Only then we can address composting. This is not just an urban problem, but our farmers have lost natural knowledge too. In our grandparents’ house there was no waste, everything was reused, and organics were composted in the garden.”
Slow Food was founded on the ideas of gastronomy, which is the study of the relationship between culture and food. Burdese explains how the nonprofit addresses the issues of environment, economics and culture through the act of eating: “Slow Food is a revolution beyond food, it is a change that starts with food and reeducates the way we eat. Our vision is of a circular system, acknowledging that resources aren’t infinite and that we are a part of nature, not its adversary. This goes against the mainstream, which is a linear, industrial path. We’ve spent the last 20 years promoting food culture, rediscovering food heritages that are being lost. Now we are leading by example with our events, reducing our environmental impact to show that it is not only possible, but is a necessary part of Slow Food.”