What caused this literal mess?

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.

A Neapolitan citizen added rubbish to the streets (photo taken January 2008) courtesy of The New York Times 

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.

References: (6)

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)

4 thoughts on “What caused this literal mess?

  1. This is a great piece! Really insightful to see how the absence of the Italian government in waste management has resulted in the mafia taking on the role. I look forward to your following posts and learning about how this waste crisis can poteintially be addressed!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I understand why the Camorra call themselves entrepreneurs now haha. They effectively made use of the disparity between the north & south and fed on the rhetoric of “dumping ground for the rich” to create and fuel their own business. I also really like how you pointed out that it is not just the government who left the mafia unchecked, but the citizens who are complicit in the crime as well. However, I do wonder – if the citizens are being selfish or have they given up? Just considering this within a general citizen-government relation, there always seems to be a reliance and expectance for the government to make change happen. So in a way, with poor governance, I do feel like the citizens may feel hopeless about the situation?

    Also, super cool to learn that there’s a term ‘ecomafia’?? Really speaks volumes about how big the environmental crime is that there’s even a term for the organization perpetuating it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hope you learnt a thing or two about Naples, especially considering you’ve been there. I hope you enjoy the rest of my entires!


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