Rome mayor seeks help to avoid trash emergency

Loss of crucial rubbish facility in fire poses a major problem for Rome.

The mayor of Rome Virginia Raggi has appealed for help from "all the cities of Lazio and of the other regions" to avoid a rubbish emergency in the capital over Christmas, following a massive fire that destroyed a major waste processing plant in north-east Rome.

A police investigation is underway into the cause of the blaze that gutted the 2,000-sqm facility on Via Salaria, with sabotage and arson not being ruled out. The fire broke out at the TMB Salaria plant in the early hours of 11 December, producing thick black smoke whose fumes reached the city centre.

People in the Salaria area were advised to stay indoors even though Lazio's ARPA environmental agency did not register air-pollution levels outside the permitted parameters. Although there was no official health warning, Italy's environment minister Sergio Costa said the situation is being monitored.

City hall is now scrambling to find an alternative to the plant which treated around 800 tons of rubbish a day, between 20 and 25 per cent of Rome's total waste. The capital's collection and disposal of rubbish was already under significant pressure however officials acknowledge that the situation is now critical.

The Salaria plant, operated by Rome's waste disposal company AMA, had long been the subject of protests by local residents complaining of foul smells. Following the fire, AMA says it has increased security and surveillance at its other garbage facilities in Rome.

Describing the fire as a "catastrophe" for Rome, former AMA head Daniele Fortini says that waste collection in the city is now "on its knees" as the capital is left with "only one working plant."

Fortini said the Salaria facility was essential in differentiating the city's waste. As for Rome's air quality following the fire, he said: "the burning of 3,000 tons of waste has released the same amount of dioxins that 100 incinerators produce in a year."

Claudia Mannino of the Verdi (Green) political party tweeted: "The fire at TMB on Via Salaria is not an isolated case, it is the result of a criminal strategy that since May 2017 has burnt as many as 380 waste treatment plants" across Italy, illustrated in a map.