Who is to blame for the waste crisis?
Before we can delve into the implications of Naples’ ongoing waste crisis, we must first take a step back and understand what started this crisis. In short, the problem arose due to the Camorra’s actions and the lack of action of the Italian government (De Rosa 2016; Iacuelli 2007). This blog aims to understand what started this waste crisis, who is to blame and why it has not been solved.
During the 1980s, waste management infrastructure was insufficient for a city of more than 3 million people (Iengo and Armiero 2017). Therefore, a limited number of incinerators and recycling plants meant there was a surplus of waste that Naples could not treat. However, Naples’ situation became a lot worse when the Camorra began making a business by illegally disposing waste into dumpsites (Saviano 2007). This involvement of the Camorra in environmental agendas has, therefore, regarded them as an ‘eco-mafia’. The sheer risk this illegal dumping has posed for Naples has been indescribable. I say this because the waste they have been dumping across Naples has not just been old coke bottles and plastic bags. Instead, it has been toxic industrial waste containing lead, PCB’s and dioxins, among other harmful chemicals, all of which has come from industrial regions in Italy’s north like Veneto. The Campania region is characterised by its poverty and lack of opportunity. Hence some Neapolitans have turned to crimes like illegal dumping as a source of income, as they can guarantee that there will be a constant flow of household and industrial waste (Petrillo 2009). Therefore, this lack of prospect in Naples has paved the way for this underground waste disposal industry to thrive. Saviano (2007: 289) encapsulated that “[waste] is an expense that no Italian businessman feels is necessary”, therefore explaining why the illegal waste industry has grown so fast. Criminals like the Camorra have capitalised on illegal fly-tipping at the expense of the environment. In fact, the illegal waste industry has earnt the Camorra over €44 billion, according to Saviano (2007), quickly making them wealthier than many Italian multinationals.
So, are there any innocent Neapolitans?
It would be false to claim that the everyday Neapolitan citizen has been innocent in this crisis. Some Neapolitans have exacerbated the issue by adding to piles of waste outside their homes. Many Neapolitans state they have lost their morale, reflected in the little care for their city (Vice News 2013). Much of this fly-tipping is not purposeful as city’s bins are full to the brim, meaning there is virtually no space to dispose of their waste apart from the streets or the area surrounding a bin. However, regardless of whether fly-tipping is purposeful or not, the unmonitored exploitation of a shared resource according to individual motivations will inevitably cause a ‘tragedy of the commons’ (Hardin 1968). Hardin’s (1968) conceptualisation of the ‘tragedy’ can therefore be applied Naples, where public bins and waste disposal sites have experienced this so-called ‘tragedy’ given that the flow of waste has been unmonitored and driven by either greed or a lack of care (Iacuelli 2007).
In essence, the Naples waste crisis was caused by various reasons, but we can narrow it down to a lack of governance and a lack of opportunity in Naples. What makes the waste crisis in Naples stand out, is the disposal of hazardous waste, often discretely hidden amongst regular household waste. Hazardous waste has posed significant risks to various urban flows such as water, food, air, and people’s health, which the blog will explore in the following posts.
De Rosa, S. P. (2016) ‘Waste and money: on the driving forces of illegal waste disposal’. In Beltrán, M. J., Kostila, P., García López, G., Velegrakis, G. and Velicu, I. (eds) Political ecology for civil society, Barcelona: European Network of Political Ecology, p. 67-74
Iacuelli, A. (2007) Le vie infinite dei Rifutti. Il sistema campano. Italy: Edizioni Rinascita
Iengo, L. and Armiero, M. (2017) ‘The politicisation of ill bodies in Campania, Italy’. Jounal of Political Ecology, 24, 45-58
Petrillo, A (2009) Biopolitca di un rifuto. Le rivolte anti-discaria a Napoli e in Campania. Verona: Ombre Corte
Saviano, R. (2007) Gomorrah. Italy’s other mafia. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Vice News (2013) ‘The Mafia is trashing Italy… literally (part 1)’. Available at: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vBHNmw0A80M, Accessed: 11 November 2020)