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The Business of Trash

In Italy, March to Athens on 4 February 2012 at 18:30

March to Athens

Day 89-XV, Mondragone, rest.

Mondragone, February 4

 

Dear people,

 

We’re in a kindergarten. There is light, there’s heating, there are toilets and there’s a kitchen. Before we came here, we found shelter in a run-down space out of town without electricity. But then the people from town hall called to the villages where we stayed before. They were told we left everything cleaner than we found it, so they entrusted us with this delecate spaces.

For the evening assembly we received a visit from an association of small farmers. They showed interest in our movement, but one of them had the impression that we are still demanding something from someone else. He says we don’t need nothing from no-one, as long as we have the land.

The association is part of a web, la Ragnatela, which spans all of southern Italy. It connects different rural realities where people work their own land and aim to be as self sufficient as possible. Seven people were present, among whom two couples and a baby. They brought excellent wine and bread.

The association is very much dedicated to the recovery of ancient varieties of grains, vegetables and fruit, to protect them from the modified seeds of agricultural corporations like Monsanto, and to help them survive for the benefit of future generations.

One us asked them the big question. “With seven billion people to feed, isn’t it necessary to resort to agriculture on an industrial scale?”

They dismissed it unanimously, saying that this is precisely the argument that the multinationals use. For an old style farmer it’s perfectly possible to work the land without chemical fertilizers, without pesticides, without genetically modified seeds, and still offer humanity an incredibly wide variety of food.

Another important thing for our visitors is the concept of rifiuti zero. No waste.

Now this is revolutionary, in the south of Italy.

The troubles with trash in Naples and surroundings are sadly known. Walking along the roads here is all but beautiful. You repeatedly encounter dead animals, small memorials with photos and plastic flowers for the people who died in traffic, and trash. Tons and tons and tons of it. Chairs, matrasses, plastic bottles, cans, televion sets, auto parts, refrigerators etc. etc. In these once wonderful places, civilization seems to be drowning in its own excrement.

This is normality. About once every year it’s trash season, and then it gets really bad. Then the flood of garbage rises, and in the towns it can easily reach the balconies of the first floors.

The root of the problem is that trash is a business. The state entrusts the collection and the disposal of trash to private enterprises. These enterprises are controlled by the camorra. They control the dumps, the means, and the workers. Once a year, they organise a strike. Then it’s trash emergency in Naples. The dumpsters flood, the streets are invaded. After days in the rotten stench, people set fire to the piles out of fear for cholera and other diseases, so big chemical clouds rise up from the neighbourhoods with equally disastrous results for public health.

It’s all on the news every day, and finally the government in Rome takes drastic measures. A so-called ‘Trash Czar’ is nominated, and sent down to Naples with special authorities and a bag full of money to solve the emergency. Then the situation calms down a bit. A year later however, to no-one’s surprise, the problem returns, and the money is gone.

I walk around, I see all the garbage, and I wonder if the natives still see it all.

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