Vatican’s green plastic revolution

In an effort to expand the Vatican’s green environmental stance, the city state has decided not to sell any single-use plastic items after its current supplies run out.

Single-use plastic include bags, water bottles, cutlery, straws and balloons.

The top five single-use plastic items polluting Europe are cigarette butts, bottles and caps, food packaging, cotton swab sticks and wet wipes, according to European Commission research in 2016.

Although the European Union pledged in May to ban single-use plastic from 2021, the Vatican has been limiting its use for the past few years.

Rafael Ignacio Tornini, who is the head of the department handling Vatican City State’s gardens and waste collection, says a dumping centre was created in 2016 for special waste disposal inside the Vatican.

The so-called “eco-centre” was restructured and enhanced in 2018 and can now handle about 85 items of the European Waste Codes (EWC) list.

Tornini says they have had great success in recycling up to 98 percent of waste brought to the eco-centre that handles “special” waste like batteries, tyres, expired pharmaceuticals and other hazardous refuse.

In the first six months of this year, he says the centre collected two percent of unsorted waste, or 98 percent of sorted waste. The target is to reach point zero percent in 2020.

Although Vatican City has fewer than a thousand residents, it has thousands of employees and countless visitors. Between them, they produce 1,000 tons of rubbish each year.

Unsorted waste collection is a problem particularly in St. Peter’s Square which is open to vast numbers of  pilgrims and tourists from all over the world.

Bins for plastics collect about 10 kilograms per day.

Tornini says his department also handles door-to-door pickup of organic waste and cooking oil.

Since food waste collection and recycling into compost began five months ago, Tornini says the amount of total unrecycled waste has dropped by 12 to 13 percent each month.

Tornini says the real task will be to change the mentality in the Vatican, including providing courses to people handling special waste.

He said they have taken to heart very much the call of Pope Francis in his 2015 environmental encyclical “Laudato Si”, to safeguard our common home.

Before Pope Francis, Pope Benedict XVI and his predecessor St Pope John Paul II have also a given a  boost to the Vatican’s green effort. All three popes have made appeals for the protection of the environment.


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