What is the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about Italy? I’m sure most of you would recall that extremely tasty pizza that you had in Rome, or that gelato that saved you from the extreme heatwave we had in the summer. I’m Italian and I can say that I agree with you. Food is what we do best. Some of you, however, would think also about the Mafia. And I can still say that you would be right. The Mafia is still a serious problem in Italy and, unfortunately, it has become part of our stereotype.
Everyone knows about the Mafia, but not everyone knows that the Mafia is not only related to politics and the drugs market, as suggested by the media, but it also affects our waste disposal system. Between 1994 and 2012, Naples and the Campania region suffered a devastating rubbish management crisis, due to the role the Mafia was playing in arranging illegal trafficking of garbage. A lot of wastage from Northern Italy’s industries used to be sent to Campania and it reached a point where a state of emergency had to be declared. The Camorra, the Mafia from Campania, created a lucrative business in all wastage disposal in the area.
In 2007, Naples was all over the news- no one was collecting the trash. A growing amount of rubbish was everywhere in the streets of Naples, affecting the health of the inhabitants. The Mafia also created an illegal waste dump just outside Naples, in a region now known as ‘Triangle of Death’. It comprises Acerra, Nola and Marigliano and turned out to be the biggest illegal waste dump in Europe, covering a land equivalent to 30 football pitches.
For many years, Camorra’s strategy was bribing and orchestrating lucrative deals to dispose of all the waste in the countryside. They would mix toxic waste with textiles in order to avoid explosions, then burn them or dump the waste in caves or holes or even just bury it in the field!
This tragic story ends with the creation of an incinerator in Acerra, within the Triangle of Death, which burns 600,000 tons of trash per year and generates refuse-derived fuel, providing with energy to roughly 200,000 households per year.
Although eco-mafias are still a problem in Italy, the country begun its own fight to protect the environment. Many environmentally orientated initiatives have recently been launched in order to become increasingly eco-friendly.
One example is the growing habit of recycling. In the past few years, many regulations and initiatives have been implemented in order to do recycling properly, being very specific about the separation of the recyclable waste. A growing number of people have started to use an app which helps clarify what is recyclable and what is not. It’s called Junker and it really takes recycling to a whole new level. This is how it works: let’s say you had a snack and you are not sure if the packaging should go to the plastic or paper bin. You can scan the barcode of the product and the app will tell you what you should do with your trash. Isn’t it amazing? If your item doesn’t have a barcode- you can find a guidance reading through the general lists and info section of the app.
Italy is also heading in the direction of becoming plastic-free. In 2011, plastic carrier bags have been banned from supermarkets and replaced by biodegradable bags. Another eco-friendly law passed this year, allowing fishers to bring back the plastic they find in their net, which constitutes roughly 50% of what they find. They were not allowed to carry it before, as it was considered as illegal waste disposal management, but it has now become possible in order to empty, or at least try to, the Italian seas.
Another interesting initiative has addressed Italian beaches. A growing number of sea-side towns have decided to ban the use of single-use plastic items from the beach. A similar movement involves the creation of smoke-free beaches: people would be able to smoke only in designated areas.
These are only few of the many environment-orientated initiatives being implemented in Italy.
It may be hard to believe that a country dealing with eco-mafias and illegal waste dumping is also determined to get rid of single-use plastic and clean the sea. They are two sides of the same coin. In the same way, in our personal microcosm, we might be trying to reduce our use of plastic and use reusable cups for our coffee, but how many times do we decide to take the car instead of public transport or simply smoke a cigarette?
We are all consumers and consuming means creating trash around us. As Italy tries to be eco-friendly, even while a part of the country is greedily aiming to make a profit out of environmental crimes, we might similarly have good intentions about helping the environment, but a part of us might be selfish and prefer our own immediate comfort rather than preserving the environment. This is a very common behaviour and I’m afraid every one of us is somehow partially guilty. I believe we should all keep our eyes open about how eco-friendly we really are and make sure we produce the least rubbish possible.
Maybe a part of us will always prioritize comfort over environmental responsibility, but if we remember that respecting the environment means respecting the place where we live and the air we breathe, it should come more naturally to act like we care.