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Oct 25, 2010 at 06:07 PM
ImageRemember the 2008 garbage crisis in Naples that Silvio Berlusconi "miraculously" succeeded in solving? Well, the garbage is back, some 2400 tons of it currently cramming the streets of Naples, and although Berlusconi again is promising a miracle, it is clear this problem is not going to go away soon. On Saturday, the European Union's Enviroment Minister Janez Potocnik, of Slovenia, warned Italy it may face sanctions if it doesn't  resolve the crisis. Last March, the European Court of Justice ruled that Italy had contravened EU rules by having failed to set up an adequate waste management system.

Last time, there was much more garbage on the city's streets. But this time, to make things even more dramatic, are the increasingly violent protests in the Neapolitan hinterland, particularly in the towns of Terzigno and Boscoreale, both located in the Vesuvius national park. Residents of these areas - angered by the bad odors coming from the local landfill - have been protesting for days against the planned opening of a second landfill.

 During the daytime, the protests are for the most part peaceful, although the residents, convinced their children's health is being compromised (this seems rather unlikely) have been blocking roads to keep garbage trucks from reaching the landfill, forcing authorities to come up with police escorts, and creating a back-up that has left garbage uncollected inside Naples itself. At night, it is a different story, with firebombs thrown and vehicles set on fire, and police have had to use tear gas. Sunday night, a gang of about 40 youths - several of whom have now been arrested -attacked two police cars with iron bars and dispersed only when the officers fired warning shots into the air. Today, Interior minister Roberto Maroni, said that if the violence did not stop, the police would be forced to use stronger measures.

Over the weekend, Civil Protection chief Guido Bertolaso, acting on Berlusconi's instructions, offered to freeze the opening of the second landfill in Cava Vitalia and offered mayors in the area some 14 milliion euros in incentives if they would stop the protests while authorities worked to rectify the bad functioning of the Terzigno landfill, the management of which reportedly has been breaking rules by bringing untreated garbage to the area. (In a press conference on Saturday, Bertolaso said foreign journalists who participated in a visit to the landfill last December, could testify to the fact that at that time there were no problems with the dump.) The mayors turned the offer down after consulting with residents who say they don't want a freeze, they want plans for the second landfill to be scratched, definitively.

It is difficult to write cogently, and briefly, about the waste disposal situation in the Neapolitan area. In the first place, there are conflicting claims: the government says the modern energy-producing incinerator in Acerra is functioning at 2/3 capacity and will soon be working at full steam. Others say it is barely working at all and point to photos of fields filled with seemingly abandoned "ecoballe", large bales of garbage, that - environmentalists say - can't be burned in the incinerator because they include refuse that needs to be specially treated. There is also no sign of the new thermocycling plant that the government announced two years ago would be built in Naples itself.

Naples, once considered of the most beautiful cities in the world ("See Naples and then you can die", was a popular saying in the early 19th century), has been dealing with waste management problems for the last decade and a half. This is an unequivocal sign that regional and local government - where inefficiency and corruption run rife - has failed to deal effectively with the issue. This, in turn has allowed organized crime to infiltrate the sector, possibly one of the reasons why garbage collection in Naples costs one third more than in the north of Italy. 

"The Campania Region still has no waste management plan and the Acerra incinerator, the only one existing in Campania, is not functioning properly". EU Commissioner Potocnik said on Saturday, adding "This means that in Campania, the authorities are neither able to carry out a program to dispose of the old baled waste nor to manage the new daily waste production." Bertolaso's first response was to tell him to mind his own business. But waste management is the EU's business. Furthermore, Italy's foot dragging has meant it has been unable to take advantage of 144 million euros of regional funding.

 Another problem in the Naples area, again no doubt a result of decades of poor and unresponsive local government, is the hostile reactions of the populace to landfills and incinerators. A news report today on Sky TV24 said that 54% of Europe's waste management is still handled by landfills, compared to 27% that is recycled and 19% is incinerated. The question is why aren't their protests of this sort anywhere else, including in places such as Vienna where thermo-incinerators are located right inside the city and no one says "boo".


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