Garbage and Campania have a long sordid history together. With over 5.8 million people living in the region it shouldn’t be surprising that they have trouble disposing of their waste. Naples is the largest city in Campania but the smallest province. With a population of 3,175,010 people and a population density of 2,625.9 people/sq. km it probably has the most difficulty with ridding itself of trash but also manages to keep the streets relatively clean* considering. In 2007-2008 the problem reached its peak when municipal workers went on strike and refused to transport anymore trash. The garbage piles were higher than the roof of a car and several times as long. They could be found all over the city and surrounding countryside. Since that time the government has worked on solutions to attempt to rein in the overflow.
In Campania the mafia have traditionally been involved in trash management with their main contribution being the illegal dumping of waste into overfilled landfills as well as the dumping of toxic waste and chemicals alongside country roads. This toxic waste seeps into the ground water thus polluting the drinking water and irrigation water of many areas. In an area known as the “Triangle of Death” there has been an increase in the number of people diagnosed with cancer which is thought to be caused by the illegal dumping of toxic waste. They also actively burn the trash which puts not just those living nearby in harms way but those that live within breathing distance of the smoke.
In the past few years there was an incinerator built in Acerra as an attempt to help reduce the amount of waste being sent to landfills. After being delayed for eight years there were protests against the facility up until (and maybe still) it opened. People argued that it would only create more environmental problems because, they claimed, the trash would not be sorted before being burnt. Incinerating the trash would produce electricity for 200,000 homes, what is more likely is that the mafia used their influence to get people to stand up against the facility.
The mafia are not the only ones burning stuff in the Campania region. In fact, many farmers burn the weeds and debris in order to clear their land for new crops. The obvious problem with this is that these are uncontrolled burns and more often than not what starts as a small fire turns into a raging wildfire that spreads rapidly. Several times this summer there have been fires in heavily popluated areas that started after a “controlled burn” got out of control. The area gets less than 4.5″ of rain on average over the summer months so the brush is very, very dry. Because of this burning there is usually a perpetual odor of smoke in the air and if you leave your doors and windows open, as most Italians do because they cannot afford air conditioning, that smoke and ash come into your house and leave a film over everything. If you drive into the farm areas around the city the smoke has a mix of organic burning and the acrid smell of burning plastic. It is most certainly an unpleasant smell to drive through, I cannot imagine what it must be like to live near it.
The latest attempt at cleaning up the area involves shipping the trash to Rotterdam where it is burned in their incinerators for electricity. The goal is to send one ship-load of trash a week to the Netherlands. Hopefully this new strategy works because the area cannot afford to have any more build up of waste, there’s just no where to put it.
In looking around for information about this problem I came across a website by a collective of Italian documentary photographers. It paints a pretty good visual picture (no pun intended) of what’s been going on in the area for the past two decades.
*If you’ve been to Naples you know that the streets are not “clean” by any western standard but compared to some areas they are immaculate.