2016 09 – Waste Processing in Italy

Listening to Italy

by Orecchiette


The 89 year old 8th King of Rome is currently under house arrest, protesting his innocence to mafia-related charges. Manlio Cerroni’s ironic title recognises the immense wealth accumulated during his long career dealing with Italy’s and, specifically, Rome’s rubbish. In the 1960s he took control of the four small private refuse companies that serviced Rome. Thereafter his business interests grew quickly and by the 1980s his Malagrotta landfill site in Rome became the largest in Europe. His involvements subsequently spread to Sydney, Abu Dhabi and Oslo, amongst other places. At issue in law is his alleged fraud, extortion, non-compliance with competition rules and the fact, prosecuted by the EU, that toxic waste was not treated and therefore leached into the ground. Cerroni denies all of this and brazens it out by saying that he has done so much for Rome that they should build him the biggest monument in Europe.

Malagrotta was closed after EU intervention. But it is just one part of a mafia-led network of waste mismanagement in wider Italy. Toxic waste has been dumped, buried, given to be used as fertilisers and burnt – releasing dioxins into the atmosphere. Politicians were bribed and acquiesced for years. Roberto Saviano has a chapter on this in his book Gomorrah, about the mafia. The land of fires, as it is called in his book, is a previously immensely fertile area north of Naples which now suffers under heavy, ruinous and long-term poisoning.  It is also referred to as the triangle of death because of the high numbers of cancers in adults, but also an unusually high incidence in babies and children.

Like Naples to its south, Rome has had its own refuse scandals. The communist trade union Cgil called a one day strike in May because of the bad conditions of the contracts of its workers. Romans pay £250, which is 50% more per annum for their refuse disposal than other Italian cities. Rome now only processes 36% of its waste locally. In contrast London, Berlin, Paris and Madrid are almost self-sufficient in their processing. Having said that, The West London Waste Authority recently agreed a 25 year contract to send waste by train to Pilning near Bristol for incineration, which will later produce power. Previously waste had been sent to landfill in Lincolnshire. (Richmond and Twickenham Times, 26. 08. 16.).

Rome’s waste is now sent to many sites across Italy for dumping and or treatment. It is also transported to Bulgaria, Romania and Portugal and will also be sent to Germany and Austria. The cost of this is huge and the mayor Virginia Raggi is having to confront this, although there are other issues that complicate the solution.

The long history of corruption and mafia involvement in Roman governance is a huge complication. The infamous Mafia capitale case is a large and hugely complex series of prosecutions which can be dated from the start of the first arrests and charges made in 2014. These involve a wide field of criminal activities including the misappropriation of funds, bribery, threats and misuse of public contracts. It involves a previous Roman mayor, Gianni Alemanno, an ally of Berlusconi and also, ironically, Italo Politano, Berlusconi’s anti-corruption czar. Plus the notorious criminal Salvatore Buzzi, who said recently that the new money is not to be made from the traditional mafia drugs trafficking but from immigrants. Or, rather from the mis-use of funds directed towards their housing and support. He has been in jail in the past for, amongst other offences, murder.

Previous heads of Ama, the body dealing with the capital’s waste, have been prosecuted for various illegal activities. These include not putting contracts out to open tender, or then giving work to new companies. A new head has recently been appointed to Ama. (Difficulties in Raggi’s cabinet: 31 Aug/1 Sept has resulted in this new appointee resigning as this article goes to print.)

The previous mayor of Rome, a member of Prime Minister Renzi’s Partito Democratico (Pd) party also had to step down before his term was over and the position was taken by a caretaker appointee. The Pd was then still expected to win the June mayoral elections but Raggi, a member of Beppe Grillo’s 5 Star Movement (M5S), won with 67% of the vote in the second round. This was clearly a vote for change, a vote against the ruling party both in Rome and nationally. The Pd is currently sliding in popularity nationally making Renzi a worried leader.

Thirty eight year old Virginia Raggi is a female lawyer with a short career in politics. She ran for the City Council as an M5S candidate for the first time in 2013 at the same time as her husband. She was elected, he wasn’t. There are interesting aspects to her legal career. Her law firm had past associations with Cesare Previti, a convicted criminal and long-time ally of Silvio Berlusconi. Raggi had also previously worked as a junior trainee in Previti’s office.

One of the further complications within Raggi’s cabinet is that there has been a flurry of criticism over the appointment of her Councillor in charge of the environment. Paola Muraro worked for Ama for 12 years in various roles including that of a consultant. There is loud criticism that she has conflicts of interest. Raggi is supportive of her and her work so far. But, a La Repubblica article of 11 August, clearly questioned Raggi’s choice. It said that Muraro had strong links with Daniele Fortini, the previous head of Ama, who resigned after accusations of illegality. Perhaps more incriminating is that she also had telephone contact with the previously mentioned criminal Salvatore Buzzi. M5S and Raggi still support her.

Refuse disposal is a long-standing problem for Rome and the question that has to be asked is why has it become so prominent at this time? The easy answer is: politics. Raggi is obviously working towards resolutions here for financial, environmental but also political reasons. The headlines of three different newspapers hint at political spin. La Repubblica of 11 August has an article with an alarmist headline: Health risk… or their next day’s headline: From Lazio to Umbria a “no” to taking the refuse of Rome. This was accompanied by a photo of Raggi with her head tilted downwards looking defeated. Corriere della Sera headed their piece with a damning: The loads sent to Bulgaria… No supportive words there for Raggi. Il Fatto Quotidiano  was less negative with a headline on 12 August that said, No refuse emergency, only a critical period. The mayor of Asti is quick to help the capital.

Il Fatto is more supportive of M5S than the two other mainstream publications. It could be that political capital is being made of a problem not of the new mayor’s making, because at that point she had been in office for less than two months. Raggi has attempted to find temporary disposal facilities as an interim solution. Some Italian areas have obviously refused to help. There could be political reasons or even common capacity ones for their refusals to offer this emergency assistance.

However the mayor of Asti in northern Italy welcomed Rome’s rubbish. He is a young member of Renzi’s Pd. He said that: thanks to the refuse from Genova and other localities there has been Є800,000 additional income in the last year. Welcoming the refuse from Rome, could lower the refuse charges for the people of Asti.

Raggi believes that she will be able to have solutions in place by December 2016. Perhaps she will. She came into office saying that she would lead a revolution of normality. Perhaps she will be given the space and support to do what is an almost impossible job.