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Rome searches for a solution to its garbage crisis
Posted on 24/07/2019


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Reports of Rome's sanitation problems have been circulating for years. Heaps of garbage and high temperatures are making the city unbearable.

Heatwave horror story

Heatwave horror story
© Cristiano Gala / 123RF

Over the past weeks, garbage has been building up on the streets of Italy's capital. The piles of waste along with the ongoing heatwave have invited animals such as seagulls, rats and wild boars to pay Rome a visit. Some residents have even lit dumpsters and bins on fire in an attempt to get rid of the garbage, creating toxic fumes. Rome's doctors' association has warned residents to avoid the piles of garbage and keep children inside, especially those with allergies.

Rome's two largest waste treatment plants are closed for maintenance, meaning that much of Rome's waste has been languishing on the streets. On July 10, Rome's environmental minister Sergio Costa claimed that the garbage will be cleaned up in "10 to 15 days" with increased door-to-door collection and an ordonnance from the regional government allowing the capital to use all of the Lazio region's plants.

In a slightly longer term measure, authorities hope to relieve the city by temporarily exporting even more of its excess garbage to other EU nations, something it already does. Thousands of metric tons of garbage are set to be sent to the Swedish city of Gothenburg, which is equipped with energy-producing incinerators. A small handful of other EU nations including Bulgaria are also being considered.

This solution is only meant to last 2 to 3 years. Ideally new plants or landfills will be built in that time to provide a permanent fix. As of now no plans to create them have been brought to light.

Since the week of July 8, Rome's main waste collection agency AMA has stepped up, gathering almost 13,000 metric tons of garbage and adding 400 new dumpsters to the city. But a permanent fix has yet to be found.

An eternal problem

An eternal problem
© Gonewiththewind / 123RF

The garbage crisis in Rome is nothing new. Since at least 2013, visitors and residents alike have been complaining of poor sanitation in the Eternal City.

In addition to its metropolitan population of between 3.2 and 4.2 million, 20 million people visit the city every year. Most tourists come during the peak season of mid-June through August, putting a significant strain on Rome's already overburdened waste management facilities.

The city's problems date back decades. For 30 years, the Malagrotta landfill was the only waste dumping site for the entire city of Rome, run by a private enterprise headed by Manlio Cerroni. Known colloquially as "il Supremo," Cerroni had a monopoly over waste management in Rome.

In 2013, European authorities found the landfill unfit to treat waste and ordered its closure. Shortly after, Cerroni was arrested on a number of charges including fraud and improper waste treatment. He was acquitted in 2018. After the closure of Malagrotta, no viable replacement was offered. Much of the city's waste is now exported to other regions in Italy or other countries.

Rome's citizens pay one of the highest city waste taxes in the country. According to a calculator on the AMA website, a 100-square-metre apartment with four inhabitants must pay around 375 euros per year. But according to a report by Openpolis, an information access association, the city spent more than 597 euros per citizen on household waste treatment in 2017.

Compounding the crisis, the city-owned AMA is 600 million euros in debt with some of its ex-administrators wrapped up in a corruption probe that was launched in 2016. The probe has caught numerous other city officials and mob members in its net.

As of July 10, another probe has been launched into the uncollected garbage crisis after numerous complaints from private citizens and associations. Coordinated by prosecutor Nunzio D'elia, the probe will investigate environmental code violations and waste management practices. Whether the probe will effect change remains to be seen.

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