Famous for its wine production, the town of Miglianico is dominated by the church of Saint Pantaleone and surrounded by vineyards. It has around 5000 residents and is in the province of Chieti in the Abruzzo region. Not an obvious place to look, perhaps, for blockchain-related breakthroughs. However, the town is the first in the world to use distributed digital ledger technology to support its waste management.

As with many Italian municipalities, Miglianico has moved in the last few years to a Pay as You Throw (PAYT) model for its collections. After an extensive communication campaign, bins and sacks were provided with Radio-frequency Identification (RFID) tags, with collection staff issued with wristbands for scanning.

Luca Del Col, CEO of Partitalia, estimates between 20 and 25% of Italian municipalities have now adopted PAYT. Partitalia specialises in smart cards, RFID tags and readers and was selected by Miglianico as its PAYT partner. It has provided more than 15,000 devices across not only Italy but also much of the rest of Europe.

Implementation of the technology is very straightforward, says Del Col, but what takes the time is explaining the new approach and charges to residents – in Miglianico, this part of the preparations took more than six months.

“Lots of municipalities have been starting [with PAYT] and are having a very good experience in terms of the percentage of recycling,” says Del Col. Many are in the 70% range, with a few reaching the mid-80s, such as Treviso at 85% – https://smartercommunities.media/recycling-italian-style-trevisos-success-story/

Miglianico has also almost reached 85%, reducing the annual cost of waste collection from €900,000 to around €600,000. Citizens can save up to 21% on their collection costs and are also incentivised with water vouchers which reduce their water bills.

As is usual in such projects, the Miglianico data from the readers was automatically uploaded into the cloud. However, the introduction of blockchain takes this a step further. It largely stemmed, says Del Col, from the technology background of the town’s mayor, Fabio Adezio.

From the outset of PAYT, the town measured all types of waste, not solely organic and unsorted, as is often the case. The blockchain technology will streamline processes, so should bring an additional saving. It also means that the council does not need to rely on the collection company for data but can verify for itself what is being collected.

Importantly, the new technology will provide citizens with greater insight into their own collections. In the initial experimental stage, the chain is fairly short: the process links the item (the rubbish bin), the citizen and the time of collection, certifying that the service has been completed. This gives assurance about the PAYT calculation and should reduce claims.

Those with a technology interest might want to know that Partitalia is using Hyperledger Fabric in the Meditchain network for this first implementation, as this blockchain is honed for scientific use, but the company is looking at Ethereum with a view to scalability and moving to more structured solutions.

Del Col sees lots of potential applications for blockchain in waste, given the ledger’s core advantage of being able to securely and transparently track and certify chains. In the Netherlands, for instance, the infrastructure ministry’s Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate (ILT) has a proof of concept project to apply distributed ledger technology and mobile apps to automate checking cross-border waste movements.

Partitalia CEO, Luca Del Col

In Miglianico, the municipality is now looking at using its PAYT and blockchain infrastructure to support additional recycling which could see citizens given financial incentives for recycling specific items, such as the containers for coffee machines. Del Col expects additional campaigns in the Spring and his company is also now seeing interest from other councils for bringing together PAYT and blockchain.

The technology that underpins bitcoin has been significantly over-hyped but, as the market matures, it is becoming increasingly clear that it does have potential particularly where secure transparency and monitoring of processes is required. As such, its applicability to waste management looks clear.