Naples, long known for its pizza, is rapidly gaining another reputation: as a city overflowing with trash. Naples isn’t the only affluent city to battle corruption, mismanagement and lack of landfill space, but it appears uniquely ill-equipped to deal with those challenges.
Naples has two problems: it produces and above-average amount of waste and has a below-average waste disposal infrastructure in place. Well-off and densely populated Naples may be the largest producer of garbage in the world per square meter, Time magazine reports. Yet disputes over landfill space and poor regulation – not to mention the involvement of organized crime syndicates – have thwarted garbage disposal.
In 2007 and 2008, garbage collection stopped altogether and stinking piles of trash rotted in the streets. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi hurridly called for a new incinerator, opened new dumping sites near Naples and even sent in the military to restore order.
The piecemeal reforms didn’t work. These days, 2,400 tons of refuse spill onto sidewalks all over town, the Associated Press reports, and piles continue to grow. The new incinerator doesn’t operate at capacity, and a nearby dump at Terzingo produces smells so awful that people living nearby have fallen ill.
Last month, riots broke out as locals protested both the stench at the Terzingo facility and plans to open a new landfill in Vesuvio National Park. The proposed landfill, expected to be the largest in Europe, would give Naples’ trash somewhere to go. However, it would be located in parkland at the foot of Mount Vesuvius, the only active volcano in mainland Europe.
In North America, union strikes sometimes interrupt garbage collection. Toronto faced such a strike in 2009, Chicago in 2003, and Seattle and New York City in 2006. Yet American cities have largely stamped out the corruption that plagues Naples, and tend not to suffer from such a severe lack of landfill space.
In New York City, for example, criminal dealings once shadowed the garbage collection business. In the 1990s, however, city officials took action, enacting tougher licensing contracts that wiped out a lot of corruption. New York also used to send its trash to an overflowing local landfill, the notorious Fresh Kills site on Staten Island. Fresh Kills was closed down in 2001 under pressure from locals and the U.S. EPA. Now New York’s trash goes elsewhere – to landfills in other states, some as far away Virginia and South Carolina.
In America, with all its open space, it’s still possible to break ground on new landfills without disrupting local communities. In densely-populated Europe, however, new landfill space is hard to find. For European cities, incineration has become a popular alternative to landfills and regulation that favors recycling has helped reduce municipal waste streams.
In Hamburg, Germany, extensive recycling programs and a tax on trash, graduated by the number of people in a household, have reduced the city’s waste stream even as its population grows, The New York Times reported. However, as populations grow across the board, many cities, including London and Athens, may have to take more action to reduce residential and industrial waste.
No matter whether you live in Budapest or in Baltimore, your local waste management infrastructure will likely depend on political and economic forces largely beyond your control. Yet by reducing your household’s waste stream, you can take pressure off local landfills and equip your family to ride out waste collection hiccups.