Confindustria Ceramica

by Rossano Resca*15   Marzo   2018

Environmental leadership for the Italian ceramic industry

The 2010-2015 Report drawn by the Ceramic Centre on IEA data shows new and improved levels of sustainability

Atmospheric emissions and water and waste recycle levels, already beyond BAT emission standards, are strongly improving, while energy consumption remains stable. These are the figures emerging from the Report on environmental sustainability in the Italian ceramic tile industry.
The impact of tile manufacturing on environment (atmospheric emissions, material and water balance, energy consumption) has shown such excellent results that they have been taken into account in the definition of the Best Available Techniques (BAT).
BAT for the ceramic tile industry are identified and specified in the Guidelines on Best Available Techniques for ceramic products, drafted by a dedicated Interministerial Committe and issued by Ministerial Decree of 29 January 2007 (ex art. 3.2 Legislative Decree No 372/99).
The 2010-2015 Report published by Confindustria Ceramica - “Ceramic tiles manufacturing companies - Impact factors and environmental performance” is drafted elaborating environmental data sent every year by tile manufacturers operating in the Emilia-Romagna region, falling into the field of application of the IPPC Directive: a sample of around 90 plants, covering about 86% of national tile production (2015)  (national production amounting to  395 million square metres).
In order to give value to this vast bulk of information, the Emilia-Romagna region and Confindustria Ceramica set up in 2012 a “Cooperation agreement for the elaboration of environmental data”, which was later renewed in 2016; the agreement has enabled the processing of data by the Ceramic Centre in order to publish the 2010-2015 Report.

Atmospheric emissions

In 2015 particulate emission factor of plants considered in the sample was between 0.1 and a maximum of 4.7 g/m2 (according to product class/cycle of belonging), compared to the industry's BAT standard reference of 7.5 g/m2. All the plants considered in the sample have registered values which are below BAT values, and they all meet Ecolabel criteria (5.2 g/m2); furthermore, over 93% of plants have an emission factor which is not even half of Ecolabel standard. We can also notice that the situation has greatly improved compared to 1998 and 2008 Reports; the average is now between 0.3 and 1.3 g/m2, an extraordinary achievement if compared with previous values (4.4 g/m2 [RI_’98] and between 0.7 and 2.6 g/m2 [RI_2008]).
Equally good results have been achieved as to atmospheric emissions of fluorine compounds: the emission factor is between 0.01 and 0.32 g/m2, compared to BAT reference value of 0.60 g/m2, with 93% of sample plants fully compliant with environmental standards, registering values below 0.20 g/m2 (Ecolabel limit). Here too there's a significant improvement compared to 1998 and 2008 Reports; the average is now between 0.07 and 0.10 g/m2, a great achievement if compared with previous values (0.48 g/m2 [RI_’98] and between  0.12 and 0.26 g/m2 [RI_2008]).

Water balance and material balance

Water balance and material balance are analysed via several indicators. For both of them the recycle of waste waters and the reuse of production waste (both directly associated to the product such as raw and fired waste, or linked to purification) are seen as the best techniques to employ.
These recycle/reuse techniques ensure higher protection of the environment on the whole, as they reduce at the same time emissions/discharge of pollutants and consumption of natural resources (well waters or pipe waters, and raw materials).
The indicator used to evaluate the eco-friendliness of reuse is the “total reuse factor (indoor + outdoor)” of waste water and waste/residuals respectively, in percentage.

The use of water
A 100% wastewater reuse factor indicates that all the waste water from the production cycle is fully reused, indoor or outdoor; hence there is no external discharge onto surface waters or groundwater. A + 100% reuse factor is elaborated for those plants which, beside recycling all waste water produced during manufacturing, are capable of receiving waste waters from other plants and of covering a wider share of their own water needs.
The plants analysed have registered wastewater reuse factors ranging from 97% to 178% (according to product class/cycle of belonging). The average reuse factor is 104%, a sharp improvement from 1998 when the average value had been around 89%; minimal values now are almost reaching 100%, compared to 2008 when they settled at 77%. It can therefore be observed that all plants analysed in the sample, regardless of product class/cycle of belonging, fully comply with BAT standards (reuse above 50%), and even with the Ecolabel excellence standard (reuse above 90%).

Waste disposal

The situation for production waste and residuals is similar. The waste/residuals reuse factor lies between 83% and 301%; the lowest value is almost as high as 1998 average (86%), while today's average is 129%, confirming 2008 data (between 94% and 165%).
Furthermore, only 7% of the examined plants shows a reuse factor below 98%; and it is worth noticing that only one plant has it below 85%, fully complying with Ecolabel (which requires a +85% reuse indicator) and BAT, whose standards demand a +50% reuse factor.

Tile energy

As far as energy is concerned, we chose as indicator the “total specific energy consumption (thermal + electrical)”, measured in Giga Joule per ton of tiles produced (GJ/t). BAT standards embrace five values, taking into account both production cycle (complete or partial from powders) and product type (porcelain stoneware, single firing, double firing); this considering that each case has to be associated to a different level of energy consumption.
In 2015 the “total specific energy consumption” for tile manufacturers in our sample was between 2.3 GJ/t and 13.5 GJ/t (when speaking of energy, the dependence of data on product class/cycle of belonging is even more evident) while BAT standard values fell between 4.0 GJ/t (partial cycle plants) and 6.5 GJ/t (complete cycle plants).
The average specific consumption value for the sampling manufacturers is 4.97 GJ/t, in perfect alignment with 1998 (4.9 GJ/t) and 2008 (3.9 to 6.9 GJ/t) results. On the contrary, Ecolabel excellence criteria (3.5 GJ/t) can only be partially compared, as such value is exclusively linked to fuel consumption, and only during firing. Although the average value has remained unvaried since 1998, 85% of the plants considered have registered consumption levels which are lower than BAT standards (6.5 GJ/t), while only 15% have exceeded them, mainly in product class concerning  “all complete cycle products, including the preparation of atomized mixture to sell it to third parties”, i.e. the most energy-consuming one.
It can therefore be noted that energy consumption levels are still low compared to values from the 90s, and have been stable since 2008; this thanks to the introduction and promotion of fast single layer firing and to the continual improvement of energy efficiency, especially developed over the last few years. According to the analysis, consumption stability (which did not decrease, despite expectations, following the introduction of more efficient plants) could be linked to a trend towards the production of “high-range products”, i.e. special products that need more complicated test campaigns and are produced in small lots in order to meet the interest and satisfaction of a selected clientele. In such conditions, plants (thermal machinery in particular) work better at lower speed, despite being energy consuming. What therefore lies at the bottom of this trend, particularly highlighted in the sample considered, is not lack of attention and care in energy management, but a high-level technical and business choice.


What has been analysed so far shows that the Italian ceramic tile industry meets extremely high levels of environmental excellence, having done so for a few decades now, and its stance towards sustainability is highly recognized.
This evaluation is based on the assessment of indicators hitherto considered: indicators which Italian companies have known, managed, measured, elaborated, and registered for many years. This know-how also shows the determination with which companies, sometimes under legislative pressure, guarantee continuous improvement in their environmental standards.
After all, sustainability has become an important competitiveness factor: the market today is more sensitive, and awareness promotes sustainable goods, in compliance with all the specifics and requirements demanded (which need to be strict if they want to be respected); and one of the necessary conditions for the reliability of environmental assessment  is a rigorous approach to technical and scientific methods adopted in the evaluation of the environmental factors and aspects analysed.


*Centro Ceramico (Ceramic Centre, Bologna, Italy)