The Porta Palazzo organic project has three main objectives. The first is to reduce food waste through the collection and distribution of unsold foods in the largest open-air market in Europe and, in the process, ensure that those in need can access quality foods in a dignified manner. Secondly, the project seeks to increase the amount of materials that will be reused or recycled, thereby reducing the amount of incinerated material. Lastly, the project also furthers the city’s social inclusion agenda by providing a meaningful way for volunteer asylum seekers to engage in their community through the collection of unsold foods.
Developed with the help of a private partner, Novamont S.p.A., Turin has implemented an innovative system to encourage the proper separation of food waste. The system consists of distributing special carts, which are designed to collect food waste and easily move through the tight spaces of open-air markets. The carts allow vendors to easily and quickly clamp biodegradable bags to the carts and to fill them as they sell their products. They can then bring the carts to the appropriate collection hub to properly sort organic waste from other recyclable and non-recyclable waste. The organic waste is sent to composting facilities, reintegrating the organic material back into the soil cycle.
Turin also enlisted a local environmental NGO, Eco dalle Città, to engage a group of volunteers, including numerous asylum seekers, to collect unsold food. Over the course of each day, the volunteers gather foods deemed unsellable and, shortly after market closing, they open a separate stall to make this food available in a dignified manner to anyone seeking food assistance.
The project requires significant political commitment and the coordination of multiple city departments, the local police force, a private financial and technical partner, a local environmental organisation, a local community organisation, the local waste management company and vendor representatives.
The success of the project relies on the support of the vendors themselves. However, the market has historically been difficult to manage for several reasons. The sheer size of the market, the challenging configuration of more than 900 vendor spaces, an extremely multi-ethnic and multilingual labour force and the presence of informal economies were all factors that the project had to overcome.
Indeed, raising awareness about the objectives of the project in such a complex environment has been one of the main challenges. For this reason, Turin enlisted a local environmental organisation to help the municipality distribute the carts and biodegradable bags to vendors and explain how to properly sort food waste. Intercultural mediators were also required to increase awareness around food waste and defuse possible tensions around the distribution, free of charge, of unsold foods.
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The results speak for themselves: from an initial starting point of approximately 45% of total waste in the market being sorted and recycled properly, the amount of food waste that is properly sorted has reached nearly 77%. At the same time, the organic waste being sorted and recovered has increased significantly from roughly 8% of the total to nearly 33%.
The project now recovers nearly 400 kg of unsold products every day for redistribution at the market itself or through nearby community facilities, thereby extending further its reach.
In addition to the significant impact the project is having on promoting a more circular economy, there are also numerous social benefits emerging. The volunteers engaged by the environmental NGO, asylum seekers from sub-Saharan and north Africa, have become extremely fond of the project. For many of the volunteers, it represents an opportunity to engage with the local community, to contribute time and energy to a project with direct social benefits to other community members and to develop leadership skills. The city, together with the NGO, is now exploring ways to document the volunteer experience to allow volunteers to demonstrate their community engagement experiences. The project can also represent an initial step on the path towards social, cultural and economic integration for some.
The Porta Palazzo organic project has demonstrated that:
■ The institutional conditions for such complex, multi-sector and multistakeholder circular economy projects require strong political will and capital in order to motivate and coordinate the various project partners over the long-term, including different sectors of the local administration.
■ Circular economy initiatives require thinking outside the box to align distinct interests and partners for multiple-win solutions.
■ The social prerequisites for the successful engagement of volunteers and outreach to local stakeholders include strong community relations to secure the collaboration and buy-in of the participants in the project.
■ Perseverance on the part of both the public administration and project partners is key to surmounting scepticism.