With landfill sites in the Campania region full to the brim and no one wanting to have new garbage deposits on his or her doorstep, the refuse-collection problem has recently hit crisis point:
l In March, schoolchildren in 13 towns near Naples were told to stay at home after mayors said that tonnes of rubbish lying about in the streets presented too great a health hazard for them. In some towns in the Caserta and Aversa areas of Campania, rubbish had not been collected for 10 days, and residents began setting fire to piles of trash in protest.
l In May, similar refuge-burning protests spread to Naples. Inhabitants of S. Giovanni a Teduccio, on the eastern outskirts of the city, also set up roadblocks to draw attention to the rotting rubbish in their area.
l Later that month, demonstrations turned violent when police baton-charged protesters who were blocking access to a refuse site in the Pisani district. Local people, many of whom needed medical attention after the incident, were angry that the illegal tip was being used temporarily to stockpile waste.
l In June, Italys rail network was brought to a standstill when demonstrators occupied the station of Montecorvino Rovella, near Salerno. The four-day protest, against the re-opening of another dump, effectively halted all major north-south train connections.
l In August, there were ugly scenes in the town of Acerra, south of Naples, when scuffles broke out at a 20,000-strong march against the construction of a rubbish incinerator. Police responded with tear gas after coming under a barrage of stones and bottles thrown by a group of demonstrators at the head of the march. The violence injured 41 policemen and 82 protesters.
l In September, another protest blocked the Rome-Naples motorway for three hours, causing a 30-km traffic jam.
l At one point, the issue even caused political squabbles in Rome, when justice minister Roberto Castelli a member of the populist Northern League party told the Campania region not to try exporting its muck to regions in the north.
l President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi has criticised the attitude of the protesters as extreme and selfish, pointing out that the local people themselves are creating the waste.
Indeed, the Campanias six million inhabitants produce 7,500 tonnes of rubbish every day, hardly any of which gets re-cycled.
Campania has long struggled to cope with its rubbish output. But the crisis has flared up this year because a number of ecoballe (eco-balls) storage sites are filled to capacity. Ecoballe are compressed balls of trash that can be burnt as fuel. They are stored up in various sites around the region before being taken away for disposal.
Regional authorities have been looking for new storage depots but whenever they appeared to have found a suitable site, local people have mounted protests. The Campania region also has plans to build two new giant incineration plants, including the one at Acerra, but the projects are being held up by activists and residents fearful of the impact on the environment and local health.
The president of the region, Antonio Bassolino, has suggested that the dark hand of the Camorra is inciting protester militancy. The Camorra the Naples equivalent of the Sicilian Mafia has long been involved in disposing of rubbish in the region, creating illegal dumps and sometimes burying dangerous refuse in the ground. Bassolino says the solution is to finish the incineration plants and encourage citizens to produce less waste.
Not everyone thinks the demonstrators are just a bunch of short-sighted moaners doing the evil bidding of organized crooks; a report from the regional environmental protection agency (ARPAC) said that dangerous toxic and industrial waste has found its way to dumps like the ones causing the protests. Another study also said that cancer rates around the sites are higher than elsewhere in the region.
The environmental association, Legambiente, has sided with the demonstrators too, arguing that the people of Campania are paying the price for years of institutional neglect. The association said, its time the government and the local authorities assumed responsibility and took decisions that are not stop-gap emergency measures. All over the world, sensible refuse management begins with rubbish sorting and then recycling, but this doesnt seem to have sunk in with the commissioners whove been in charge of Campanias trash for the past ten years.
The sensible refuse management Legambiente referred to is by no means an alien concept in Italy. Many parts of the country, especially smaller towns in the north, have good records on rubbish-sorting, recycling and environmentally-friendly rubbish management. However, such enlightened policies have not found their way to the south as yet. According to the environment ministry, only five per cent of waste is recycled in the south, compared to 30-35 per cent in the north.
Emergency accords to transport trash to Germany and despite Castellis warning to other Italian regions, have brought the situation under control to some degree. But the underlying problems in Campania have not been addressed and local opposition to the Acerra plant remains passionate. In short, it looks like we have not seen the last of Italys rubbish revolts.