The European Commission warned Italy that it would face economic sanctions if Rome did not handle its trash crisis properly in Campania, the second most populous and one of the poorest regions in the country.
The warning came on Saturday amid violent protests last week in the region’s capital of Naples. Citizens took to the streets to protest against opening up a new dump site as trash piled up on city streets.
In the outskirts of Naples “Terzigno is in flames, and so is neighboring Boscoreale, where the mayor has closed the schools, parents hurry to pick up their children, and the shops lower their shutters,” according to the English version of the Italian paper Corriere Della Sera.
European Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik said that the civil concerns showed the inability of local authorities to find an adequate and definitive solution to resolve the garbage problem.
“This is shown by the fact that the Campania Region still has no waste management plan and that the Acerra incinerator, the only one existing in Campania, is not functioning properly and at full capacity,” Potocnik said in a statement.
"I am worried by what has been happening in Campania in recent days. … Today's situation leads us to believe that measures taken by Italian authorities since 2007 are insufficient," he underlined.
The first Campania trash crisis in Naples reached a crisis point three years ago when collectors stopped picking up the waste because dumps were at capacity. Local protests then ensued against proposed new dumpsites.
The problem was temporarily resolved after the government pledged to throw about $2.8 billion at it.
However, despite Italian authorities’ efforts to tackle its trash troubles with high investment and the construction of a large-scale infrastructure complex, the management of waste treatment in Campania has remained ineffective.
For over two decades, the inappropriate treatment and disposal of urban and industrial waste has contaminated surface and underground waters as well as contributing to air pollution in the region, according to Civil Society Engagement with Ecological Economics (CEECEC), a European Union-funded project.
The reasons behind the troubles have remained unresolved for years, says CEECEC.
The organization explains that an illegal waste market has developed as mafia groups have penetrated local and regional waste management operations. The situation came about because the region is one of the poorest in Italy in which many municipalities do not have sufficient resources to develop their public waste service companies, its report says.
The CEECEC points out that urban and hazardous waste is brought to the region for disposal from other parts of the country as well.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said that the government will address the situation in 10 days, according to news reports.
In March, the European Court of Justice found Italy in breach of EU legislation because authorities failed to set up a network of installations to manage urban waste.
The EU will consider sending the case to court again, which could entail fines.