Environmental (In)justice in Naples

What is environmental justice?
Arguably, we can apply the case of Naples’ ongoing waste crisis to a critical idea in UPE; environmental (in)justice. So, what exactly is environmental (in)justice? The concept emerged out of the USA in the early 80s, and it suggested how environmental externalities are disproportionately experienced by the poor and often those of colour (Schlosberg 2007; Miller and Tyler 2003). As a result of disproportionate environmental implications, residents commonly protest and speak against the injustice (Bullard 1992). However, in the case of Naples’, externalities are not explicitly thought of as an issue associated with income or race. But by taking a more in-depth look into the plight of Naples and its micro-geographies, we can understand how the waste crisis and its externalities that I have explored in the past posts, are interlinked with discrimination (Armiero and D’Alisa 2012). This blog entry aims to explore Naples’ waste crisis through a different approach. Rather than looking at the causes and implications of the waste pile-up, I aim to explore the indirect motivations and causes of the crisis through an environmental (in)justice lens. 

Why has Naples suffered and not anyone else?
There is a reason why Naples out of all cities has been disproportionately impacted. We can boil the reasons down to poverty, vulnerability and a lack of governance. The Campania region is the third poorest region in Italy by GDP per capita succeeding two other southern regions (Mignone 2008). It is also one of the least economically productive (Armiero and D’Alisa 2012). As a result of this poverty and lack of opportunity, the impoverished south has been considered a ‘wasteland’ (Iacuelli 2007: 13), or “a dumping ground for the rich” as suggested by Saviano (2007: 287). Saviano’s (2007) quote encapsulates a critical problem for Naples, and that is the striking inequality between Italy’s north and south (Rungi and Biancalani 2019). Arguably, those who call Naples a ‘wasteland’ are not entirely wrong. As a region focused on agriculture, Campania has plenty of empty land covered by forests. Consequently, Naples has seen an influx of waste from the industrially focused north of Italy, with this waste being dumped in the empty forests of the impoverished north of Naples (Antonopoulos 2016; Iovino 2009).

Peaceful protest on the streets of Naples, concerning the high numbers deaths as a result of cancer. The sign held by the individuals translates to ‘swollen river, stop biocide’ (photo courtesy of Alessio Paduano)

However, Campania is not the poorest nor least productive region in Italy, so why has the waste gone to Naples and not Sicily or Calabria, which are far more impoverished? We again have to look at the individuals who have caused this problem; the Camorra. Being primarily based in Naples, the Camorra control the city and know it better than anyone else. As a result, they have been able to place authority on households and businesses in Naples, through fear and a promise to protect the everyday Neapolitan (Saviano 2007; Durante 2008). However, most of the Camorra’s power and control has been over poor, vulnerable and often migrants who are new to the city (Roberti 2008). These groups are subsequently at the mercy of the group, and subsequently, the Camorra have exploited this relationship with little consequence. The Camorra have disposed of waste virtually anywhere owning to the monopoly they hold over much of Naples (Ibid 2008, Saviano 2007). The Camorra also have a monopoly over the municipal government, which has meant this waste crisis has gone mostly unnoticed (Armiero and D’Alisa 2012). Had this waste crisis been in a city in Italy’s north with more robust political and social governance, the situation would have likely been controlled much earlier. 

Naples is rather unlucky. However, there are reasons why Naples has suffered disproportionately in comparison to other regions in Italy. The cities immense poverty and migrant population has been a breeding ground for the Camorra to impose power and authority. This blog entry, explored through the lens of environmental (in)justice, how Naples’ social characteristics have been exploited by the Camorra, which is why Naples’ waste crisis has been so severe.

Reference: (11)

Armiero, M. and D’Alisa, G. (2012) ‘Rights of resistance: the garbage struggles for environmental justice in Campania, Italy.’ Capitalism, Nature, Socialism, 23:4, 52-68

Bullard, R. D. (1992) ‘The quest for environmental equity: mobilizing the African-American community for social change.’ In American Environmentalism: the U.S Environmental Movement, 1970-1990. New York: Taylor and Francis

Durante, F. (2008) ‘Scuorno (vergogna).’ Milan: Arnoldo Mondadori  

Iacuelli, A. (2007) Le vie infinite dei Rifutti. Il sistema campano. Italy: Edizioni Rinascita

Iovino, S (2009) ‘Naples 2008, or, the waste land: trash, citizenship, and an ethic of narration.’ Neohelicon, 36:2, 335-346

Mignone, M. B. (2008) Italy today. Facing the challenges of the new millennium. New York: Lang Publishing.

Miller, G. and Taylor, Jr. (2003) Environmental science: working with the earth (9th edition) California: Brooks/Cole  

Roberti, F. (2008) ‘Organised crime in Italy: the Neapolitan Camorra today.’ Policing: a journal of policy and practice, 2:1, 43-49

Rungi, A. and Biancalani, F. (2019) ‘Heterogeneous firms and the north-south divide in Italy.’ Italian Economy Journal, 5, 325-347

Saviano, R. (2007) Gomorrah. Italy’s other mafia. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Schlosberg, D (2007) Defining environmental justice: theories, movements and nature. Oxford: Oxford University Press

3 thoughts on “Environmental (In)justice in Naples

  1. Hi, I have enjoyed reading your posts on the waste crisis in Napes! I like that you covered the various facets of waste problems – it really shows how improper waste management can have a myriad of knock-down impacts on different dimensions of everyday life. It was nice to see you frame Naples’ waste crisis as an issue of environmental (in)justice in this post. As you’ve highlighted, uneven power dynamics indeed lies at the core of this crisis.

    That said, environmental justice movements have been picking up in recent years and I wonder if such initiatives have emerged in Naples? In your post, I noticed that you included a photo of a protest against water pollution on the streets of Naples. I’m curious whether such protests are common and if there have been other ground-up movements to tackle the waste problems? It would be interesting to hear your thoughts on the potential of ground-up initiatives in this context.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi there and thanks for your comment. I believe protests like these are not as common now, they’ve become more of a way to display those who have been effected by the waste crisis, such as loved ones who have passed. This picture I used before was taken during peak of the crisis, but now as the situation has improved a lot protests are not really what they used to be. They’ve just become marches so people can respect the dead and those adversely effected by the waste crisis. But, these projects have led a rise in citizen science whereby individuals show the environmental effects they are living amongst. Arguably, this has been effective, but nothing has really kicked off like it has in other places. I think that’s because many people are either scared or they have yet to experience the externalities of the crisis.


  3. Hi, I really enjoyed this post. I think it’s important to recognise the political imbalances within countries, particularily in Italy which should have relatively robust environmental regulations. The disposability of certain communities is central to the uneven distribution of environmental waste but it’s very interesting to see how corruption and mafia controls also feed into this. Thanks for such a great post!


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