Thursday, 3 April 2008

More landfill issues: Waste problems in Italy (Guest Post)

(Photo by Flickr's Chris John Beckett)

I normally like to hail "good news" stories on this blog being of a positive mind but when I heard about the waste disposal problems in Italy, I felt it would be interesting to get an Italian's view from the inside. Italy's waste problems have hit the press in particular over the last 12 months with reports of rubbish remaining uncollected in Naples because landfill sites are full. There have also been stories about how Campania has been hit by the tourist trade as well as tales of restaurants closing.

Loredana, aka Danda, a regular commentator on The Rubbish Diet blog has been kind enough to provide us with an insight from within Italy. It makes very sad, but interesting reading.

"Here I am to tell the Italian situation about waste, which is not positive, as all newspapers of the world already tell us. The recent events occurred in Campania actually are the tip of an iceberg that extends far beyond the visible part.

I’m not living in Campania, in the southwest of Italy, so unfortunately I cannot speak by direct experience and tell the dramatic situation that people everyday are living there. But it was well outlined by the media: entire areas, previously dedicated to agriculture or pasture, are now polluted by damaged bales, full of any kind of waste. There is domestic garbage mixed with mostly toxic industrial waste, which is carefully concealed or misunderstood as harmless organic waste.

Most of the towns are besieged by heaps of waste that bins can no longer contain. People must endure not only the bad smell that comes out, but the smoke laden with dioxins too. Some people, who are exasperated, burn trash ignoring the toxicity.

So bales are slowly brought in large landfills that are full now. Existing incinerators no longer continue their activities due to technical and bureaucratic problems. In the surrounding areas the residents fear the spread in the air of particulate resulting from incineration, considered by many scientists as a cause of cancer.

The rest of Italy has been watching open-mouthed at what is still happening there in Campania. But we are not aware that the danger is inherent in every region, that the emergency could explode everywhere.

I myself remain wordless whenever I look at these scenes and I can’t find a way to really understand where the mistake is and who is responsible for all of this trouble. We talk about “eco-mafia”, which means crime, we talk about inefficient systems for collection, storage and disposal of waste, we talk about bad administration, corrupt politicians.

But all these things make me think about the fundamental problem: waste is the product of our everyday life, so we, the consumers, ourselves are primarily responsible for all these afflictions.
One of the problems is that many people here don’t consider waste as the direct product of our consumerism that could be significantly reduced. There is a sort of cultural heritage that makes us think that consumption, and therefore throwing out, is a sign of prosperity. We believe that, once far from our sight, waste disappears. But it’s not in this way. Starting from now, we notice that everything we send to the landfill is bounced in our lives, in the air we breathe, in our food, in the water we drink.

Recycling facilities were widespread in almost all Italian municipalities. Each municipality unfortunately has different waste collection managements and sometimes it is proved to be insufficient, for the lack of economic resources or the lack of cooperation from citizens.

But the main problem is that people do not know what they are putting in the various recycling bins. There is a lot of confusion. Differently from what is happening in Great Britain, here in Italy both public administrations and the same collection service companies are lacking the dissemination of correct recycling rules to the citizens.

So many citizens here do not easily improve waste recycling and make little effort to put aside glass, plastic, metal, paper, organic waste. It is rare to have a door-to-door recycling collection system, even although this may already be a more effective solution, but it does exist in some cities.

Here it is easy to see any kind of trash in recycling bins. There are no controls, sanctions, nor incentives for the few people who behave in a virtuous way.

At school and through the work of environmental groups, the culture of recycling is transmitted to the young, but adult generations are the ones hardest to understand that this kind of behaviour should become a duty for everyone.

Industry plays its part too, not reducing the unnecessary packaging of products and the graphics on the packs badly illustrate the right way for recycling.

So far I spoke about recycling, but I couldn’t imagine what it could mean to introduce a broader effort in Italy, as “the Rubbish diet”, which tries to reduce waste almost to zero. I very often run into sceptical people who don’t trust in recycling at all.

I was delighted when I found out about British initiatives, for example people who undertake to live a week with “zero waste” are the real heroes. All the world should take them as an example to imitate.

I believe that our country is at the point where things must really change or we will end up having to renounce our health and our heritage. Let us not forget that Italy, for climate, geographic position and history is one of the most beautiful countries in the world, yet we are damaging ourselves! That is why we should not desire commiseration from other countries. We should not be surprised that others impose strict controls on food imports from Italy, which is happening these days, but we must roll up our sleeves and start with some small daily gestures."

Thanks very much to Loredana for her insight. She is not a journalist, a writer, or indeed an eco-activist, just someone who cares about what's happening to her country.

It is hard to imagine what it must be like living in a society where waste is left uncollected or indeed living in a country where you worry that it could so easily happen to you.

This isn't meant to be a scare story, as I have faith in the UK system and in our people that we will continue to reduce the amount that our society sends to landfill. Call me an optimist, but I also believe that manufacturers will begin to reduce unnecessary packaging too, as consumers who want to make a difference begin to vote with their feet and indeed their wallets.

Loredana's blog can be found at: but I hope your Italian is good as she writes in her native tongue, which is why I am even more grateful that she was able to provide her guest post in english.



Unknown said...

Thank you too!!!
The image of Italy I wanted to show is sad, I know, but I trust in the power of communication and in the people who have the strenght to change things, as you do everyday.
So, differently from it could appear, in the deep of my heart there's a bit of optimism. And this is what I finally wish for people in my country!


Almost Mrs Average said...

Hi Danda - thanks very much for the post. There have been quite a few people coming over from your site to read it so thanks for the link. I hope that things begin to improve over there. With all my best wishes - KC.

cappad said...

hey!!! thx for the information!!!

Almost Mrs Average said...

Hi Cappad - glad it's useful and thanks very much for visiting.

Unknown said...

Obesity leads to cardio-vascular system disorders! Protect your family's health! But I know, how to loose weight!

Hannah said...

Thank you for this post. I was trying to decide whether to use cloth or disposable diapers on my upcoming trip to Italy. I will be using mostly cloth after reading this.

Almost Mrs Average said...

Hi Hannah - thanks for dropping in and leaving a comment. Hope you have a fab trip to Italy and manage as rubbish-free as possible.

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