Surrounded by a city that just started a pilot recycling program in one small neighborhood, the Vatican's efforts to separate and recycle its garbage reportedly are making great strides.
"It is new, but it is moving forward seriously," said Bishop Renato Boccardo, secretary of the office governing Vatican City State.
"It has been difficult because it is a matter of education and of a certain culture and we were starting from zero," he said in late May, about 18 months after the Vatican started systematically sorting its trash and just three months after the city of Rome began doing so in the Trastevere neighborhood.
Since the beginning of 2008, the Vatican has designated 42 percent of its industrial-size trash collection containers to recyclables. The little city-state's roads and alleys are dotted with 120 containers for generic trash, 30 containers for paper, 25 for glass, 18 for plastic and 15 for aluminum and tin cans, said Elio Cortellessa, the Vatican gardener in charge of garbage collection.
In January, the Vatican newspaper interviewed Cortellessa and emphasized the fact that with the gardeners overseeing the trash pickup, care for the natural environment is a priority.
In fact, much of the material the Vatican recycles each year consists of garden waste -- pine cones, needles, leaves, palm fronds and grass clippings. Gardens and lawns cover almost half of the Vatican's 108 acres.
With a small gem to protect and the price of hauling trash to landfills continually increasing, the Vatican is trying to get its employees "to reflect a minute before throwing anything away," Bishop Boccardo said.
The next step is to get the millions of people who visit the Vatican each year to do the same, he said, adding that his office is planning to provide separate bins for plastic water bottles and for soft drink cans in the Vatican Museums and in St. Peter's Square, the two main tourist spots.
The governor's office does not, however, take care of garbage collection and recycling for the many Vatican congregations, pontifical councils and other offices located outside the Vatican walls. Even the Vatican press office, just across the street from St. Peter's Square, has to make do with the sanitation services offered by the city of Rome.
Fortunately, on the street behind the press office, the city has placed a jumbo-sized collection bin for paper alongside its regular trash receptacles.
"I take the paper out personally," said Passionist Father Ciro Benedettini, vice director of the press office.
Leftover copies of the daily press bulletin, newspapers and the daily press clipping service mean the priest gets plenty of exercise. However, he said, the press office is making a concerted effort to reduce its waste paper by getting Vatican officials to read the daily press clipping service online instead of in printed form.
Printing on all that paper also means the press office uses a significant amount of toner and ink, and those cartridges are picked up on a regular basis by a cooperative that recycles them, Father Benedettini said.
The priest said introducing the recycling measures was not much of a challenge; "there is great sensitivity here," he said.
While the press office produces an impressive pile of recyclable paper, it's nothing compared to the mountain of paper discarded each day by the Vatican printing press, which is responsible for printing the daily Vatican newspaper, its weekly editions in six languages as well as books, calendars, papal Mass programs, greeting cards and postcards.
Getting rid of all that paper costs very little and sometimes, depending on the market value of paper, even earns the Vatican money; the Vatican newspaper reported that sales of the waste paper often generate more money than it costs to hire a truck to take it away.
But paper and garden waste are not the only garbage the Vatican produces on an industrial scale, said Cortellessa.
The Vatican has separate contracts with companies that haul away and treat with environmental sensitivity the byproducts of the popular butcher's counter in the Vatican supermarket, expired medications from the Vatican pharmacy and biomedical waste from the Vatican health service, Cortellessa said.
Even though the Vatican is set in a garden and has fewer than 500 residents, he said there was a house-by-house and office-by-office effort to break the practice, common in Rome, of setting garbage bags and broken household appliances on the street corners in the hopes that a garbage collector would pick them up.
Now, he said, Vatican residents and employees call a number, and a truck arrives to collect and properly dispose of broken appliances, discarded furniture, old car batteries and tires, large packing materials and florescent light bulbs -- none of which go into the regular recycling containers.
Then, when the Vatican's annual trash haul is added together and divided by 365, statistics show it produces an average of about 13,000 pounds of trash each day. But the statistic gives the mistaken impression that Vatican employees and residents are major garbage generators, Cortellessa said.
The fact is, he said, "when there are large (public) ceremonies, the quantity of refuse triples."
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