The eighth hill of Rome, the only one not listed in ancient chronicles, was for decades a monstrous landfill located in Malagrotta, west of the city. Manlio Cerroni, a controversial businessman known as the king of garbage, managed that black hole where thousands of tons of waste per day would end up. Any type of waste was dumped there. It did not matter. Also, for a time, environmental complaints and complaints from the European Union mattered little, and began to pile up on the mayor’s desk. On October 1, 2013, Councilor Ignazio Marino closed it. And on that day, modern chronicles point out, the monster was born.
Politics in Rome, one of the most complicated cities to govern, used to be done by looking at the sky and putting a candle to the garbage truck. For decades, the capital of Italy has had a structural problem with the collection of waste that periodically – about six or seven times a year – degenerates into a serious crisis like the one it experienced just a week ago. A mammoth public company, which has liquidated eight CEOs in the last five years, and the lack of treatment and storage facilities have created a hole that is difficult to avoid. Roberto Gualtieri, the former Minister of Economy who a month ago won the mayoralty for the left wing of the Democratic Party, promised to end the chaos and have the city – awarded in September by readers of Time Out Like the dirtiest in the world — in perfect condition at Christmas. Last week he managed to save an extreme situation, but everything indicates that it will be difficult to fulfill the promise. At a minimum, it will cost you 40 million euros already budgeted.
Rome is the second largest city in Europe, behind Greater London. Its 1,400 square kilometers are almost unreachable even for Ama, a public company with 7,300 workers (the same as Alitalia). One of the problems is found in the template and structure. Of all of them, 24% are considered unskilled: it means that they have a slight disability that prevents them from carrying out different tasks. The work absenteeism recognized by the company, in addition, is 9%, although some sources put it at up to 16%. “You always shoot at us. But we are just the public face of this problem, ”protests Daniele as he takes his turn in Piazza Navona. In part he is right. The main problem is not only that.
The city generates 4,000 tons of garbage every day, but it already has hardly any waste treatment plants or landfills to store them. Last week the system collapsed and garbage piled up in city dumpsters for days. But those green artifacts are just the latest link in a broken system. The trucks stopped picking her up because they didn’t know where to take her. And it was necessary to look for other places, as the new councilor for the Environment, Sabrina Alfonsi, explains to this newspaper. “First we had to deal with the emergency that we encountered. It was impossible to take the waste from Rome to the plants in Lazio for different reasons – the capital region – and in Italy. And we have had to sign new agreements with Mantua, Lazio, Tuscany… ”, he points out in a telephone conversation.
The closure in 2013 of the Malagrotta landfill and, subsequently, other waste treatment plants were not accompanied by new facilities. Virginia Raggi, the former mayor of the 5 Star Movement, resisted doing so and promised to speed up the differentiated collection to avoid what she considered environmental risks. In five years it only managed to do so by one percentage point (it left it at 46%, practically the same as its predecessor). And the garbage that cannot be put into that circuit has to be taken to the biological mechanical treatment plants, which separate the materials. But then it is impossible to take it to a landfill to an incinerator.
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The only solution is to pay premiums to send Roman rubbish on a trip through Italy. Or for Europe. According to the latest Ispra report for 2020, the Lazio region sent 416,000 tonnes of waste in 2019. Some of it ended up in Slovakia, Denmark, Hungary, Portugal, Germany and the Czech Republic. Beyond the environmental cost of thousands of trucks coming and going, which would normally cost 60 or 70 euros per ton, it ends up reaching prices of up to 160 euros. In this way, the rubbish rate of the Romans becomes one of the highest in Italy, with an average of 221.30 euros, compared to the national average of 175.
The new mayor has made a promise, and to fulfill it he will only be able to continue spending more money and seek agreements for the Roman garbage to travel through Europe. “It will be fulfilled,” says Councilor Alfonsi. “But the extraordinary plan must be ordinary so that crises do not return,” he insists. The plan to stop the coup also includes an incentive plan for employees. It is about giving up the holidays – not the days off for rest – and not accumulating sick days. They would be paid 360 euros more between November 22 and January 9. A productivity award, in short. But in reality it is extortion. Employees are being paid for work that is already paid on their salary. It is even stranger when public employees are the only ones who have not suffered during the COVID crisis, ”says a manager of the Ama who requests anonymity.
The role of the mafia
Problems in the public administration, especially in the garbage sector, often give rise to the infiltration of mafia networks. In the last Ecomafia dossier of the Legambiente Association, the Lazio region is pointed out as one of the regions with the worst data: in 2020 there were 736 crimes related to waste treatment, 942 complaints, 36 arrests and 391 confiscations. The data places the region in second place after Campania, the Naples region, in crimes in the garbage treatment cycle (one place higher than the previous year). The province of Rome is also the second in Italy, with 418 registered crimes. The same association has denounced that there are around 1,000 illegal dumps in the city.
The solution now will be to accelerate the differentiated collection to meet the objectives of the European Union for 2035. Continue paying and try to convince potentially affected neighbors to allow a discharge to be built near their homes, as indicated by the Gualtieri program . But above all, keep putting a candle to the garbage truck.
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