Sorting, collection and taxes
CRASH! The sound of broken glass shattered the silence of the dark, rainy night. My jet-lagged brain took a moment to process this. It was early January, 1999, Sunday night around 9pm, and I had just fallen asleep in the apartment that I’d rented over the internet for the entire coming year. As the taxi had approached earlier that day, I started to have doubts about the area I had chosen. It looked really bleak and deserted. The crashing noise outside, which I decided must be someone breaking car windows, was making me want to book the next flight back home.
It was only the next morning, when I went outside bleary-eyed, that I discovered the blue, bell-shaped container for glass recycling that was conveniently placed right underneath my bedroom window. (Note to self and others – try not to rent apartment that close to garbage disposal, if possible.) The emptying of this container is as fascinating as its existence, and really noisy. The whole thing gets hoisted up over a truck equipped to remove its bottom, so that everything is expelled at once, with incredible racket. At first, garbage sorting, disposal and taxes seemed ingenious and strange to me. Now I have a black belt in it.
Garbage management and collection (and street cleaning) differs in each comune of Italy. Usually this work is subcontracted out. You will want to eventually find out the name of this company involved, for when you need to dispose of unusual waste, or if you just want to know if tetra-pak is recyclable after all (in Florence, it is!). Also, the same company probably cleans your street, and if you can’t decipher the complicated parking rules posted on the signs, the cleaning company’s website probably has a handy list of when they come around, so that you know better than to park there at that time. In Florence, for example, street cleaning and garbage disposal is managed by a company called Quadrifoglio. To find out what company collects your garbage, check if the cassonetti (garbage bins) have the name of the company written on them. If not, you can check the website for your comune.
Different types of garbage and recycling
In each comune – sometimes, it seems, in various parts of the city – the materials that can be recycled differ. In all cases, “rifiuti non-differenziati”, or “just your usual refuse” has to be bagged and is tossed into big garbage bins that take up perfectly good parking spots every fifty meters or so. Usually by these same bins you will find some combination of paper recycling bins, glass and plastic “bells”, and possibly bins for compostable waste.
Dangerous household waste
Batteries, prescription drugs, toner and inks and anything else toxic should be brought directly to your nearest “garbage center”. (I found the address for mine on the Quadrifoglio website). Your local supermarket or pharmacy may also have a bin for these things.
Large garbage collection
There is a phone number to call for free pick-up of things like old appliances, furniture and the like. For construction garbage, you have to take it to a dump and leave it free of charge. Again, check your local garbage collection company for addresses and information.
Out of curiosity – how does recycling work? If you have ever wondered how they separate all the stuff that goes into the “blue bell”, or how long it takes for paper to biodegrade, check out the most adorable flash video “il viaggio dei rifiuti” at: http://www.quadrifoglio.org/oggetti/34967.htm
The garbage tax (TARSU, now the TIA)
Now, with all this garbage, even if they make us take our own to the bins, someone has to pay for it. Until recently, there was a garbage tax called TARSU (which stands for Tassa Rifiuti Solidi Urbani, but don’t ask what the A stands for). The amount of the tax was related directly and only to the size in square meters of your home or business. Well, here is the exciting news! The new Tariffa sul’Igiene Ambientale (TIA) is now in effect in most comunes of Italy (some are still coming into effect and others have been given extensions until 2008). The new tax is calculated first on the size of the space you own or inhabit, then on the number of people who live there. (It is even more complicated for businesses.) To know if your area is already using the new tax, go to the website www.tiaonline.it.
Technically, you are supposed to declare the number of residents and the size of your home to the comune upon moving in, so that the tax can be properly applied. Before doing this, though, talk to your landlord or condominium administrator if you have one, because it may have already been done for you, or by a previous owner. Each area has its own regulations and forms for this, so check your town’s website.
In my experience (limited to rented apartments), however, these garbage taxes have in the past just appeared out of nowhere, at no recognizable intervals, in my mailbox. I have never made any declarations to anyone. I still cannot figure out how often and when these things arrive, but they are never very expensive, and I just pay them as they show up. Extended internet research reveals that in Rome it comes twice a year, in Padova three times a year; like many things, it is applied regionally so generalizations cannot be made.
The tax is Italy-wide but applied and managed by each comune, and the costs seem to differ widely. There are also a lot of complicated deductions you can claim. If you are two people living in a 110 square meter apartment, and you don’t happen to compost on your balcony (-20%!!), you’ll pay about 140 euro per year in Vicenza, 105 in Calenzano, and 218 in Fiesole.
Tips on how not to get inundated by your own unsorted garbage
Random smelly boxes and overflowing paper shopping bags no more! On my last trip to Ikea I finally got organized and purchased their “Sortera” plastic bins, not cheap at 15-19 Euro each. These funny-shaped stackable bins have a flip-top and are perfect for sorting paper recycling from cans, plastic and glass. I put big garbage bags into them so that I just take out the bag when it gets full, and the bin stays clean.
This page was written by Alexandra (aka "Tomale" on the forum),
a Canadian art historian who now makes her home in Florence