Monday, October 24, 2011

Rome's Dirty Little Secret

If you live in or are visiting Rome you may have seen posters throughout the city announcing the closure of the Malagrotta garbage dump, couched in self-congratulatory back-patting wording on the part of Rome's mayor Alemanno and Polverini, the director of the Lazio region commission.
Most of you are probably asking yourselves what Malagrotta is. Fair enough, as the city of Rome and the Lazio region certainly aren't making a point of airing  this bit of its dirty laundry. Malagrotta is the largest garbage dump in Europe: a dump of all of Rome and the Vatican's municipal waste....unrecycled waste. The European Commission has fined Italy repeatedly for this blatant violation of European regulations, all to no avail. Yes, Malagrotta is closing after 35 years, BUT....
It will be re-opening in a new location in Riano, north Rome. No steps have been taken towards an effective recycling program so Malagrotta will be perpetuated in a different location but twice as close to Rome's city center.
Just last week a meeting was held at the Lazio Region offices to discuss this issue. Renata Polverini (presidente della giunta regionale di Lazio / president of the Lazio Region Commission) and Rome’s mayor Alemanno have appointed a Commissario Straordinario (emergency/extraordinary commissioner), Pecoraro, to preside over this issue and make a decision regarding the Quadro Alto site in Riano. By categorizing this as a Situazione d’Emergenza (an emergency situation) and appointing an emergency/extraordinary commissioner this allows Polverini to supercede the law and avoid due legal process. It also allows Polverini and Alemanno to wash their hands of the issue and avoid making the uncomfortable decision directly themselves to put the landfill site in Riano. Neither Polverini nor Alemanno nor Pecoraro has visited the Quadro Alto site.Polverini and Alemanno say the Quadro Alto site will be a temporary solution. As Rome has made no progress towards recycling how can the Quadro Alto site possibly be temporary?
There are many shocking aspects to this situation. The owner and president of Malagrotta, Co.La.Ri. (the Lazio Consortium for Municipal Waste), is Manlio Cerroni. Two years ago Co.La.Ri. made an application to the town of Riano, the province of Rome and the Lazio region to use Quadro Alto in Riano as a landfill site. The request was denied by all three. Riano, the Rome Province and the Lazio Region all three stated clearly that Riano is not an acceptable site for a landfill. How can the Lazio region now claim that Riano is an acceptable location, just two years later? The town and the surrounding area have remained the same. Riano’s population is constantly growing which, if anything, makes it all the more unacceptable as a landfill site.
Last week on October 14th Co.La.Ri. purchased 93 hectares in Riano which Cerroni has stated publicly will be used as the next landfill site to replace Malagrotta. This purchase occured just days before the Lazio Region meeting to discuss using Quadro Alto in Riano as a landfill site. In addition, Pecoraro still hasn’t made a formal decision or pronouncement regarding the use of Quadro Alto as a landfill site. Although there should be a competitive tender for the management of a landfill site it is quite clear that there has been collusion in this case.
Why the possibility of starting up a new landfill site in Riano is alarming to its 10,000 residents and the thousands of residents residing in nearby municipalities:

  • Co.La.Ri. now operates Malagrotta. There is no recycling of any type being done at this landfill site. Every day thousands of garbage trucks arrive at Malagrotta and dump an alarming number of metric tons at the site daily. Although there are several TMB incinerators at Malagrotta only one is operative….at just 60% of capacity. If Malagrotta is not doing any recycling and the incinerators are not operating then why is there any reason to assume that Co.La.Ri. will operate and manage a new landfill site differently?
  • Riano is just 15 kilometers from the historic center of Rome (Piazza del Popolo and the Spanish steps). Malagrotta is double that distance. St Peters Dome is visible from Riano.
  • There are hundreds of residences within view and a short walk to Quadro Alto.
  • There are schools and pre-schools close to Quadro Alto.
  • There are roughly 200 people working each day at the Quadro Alto quarry. All these people stand to lose their livelihood.
  • There is a restaurant that has been operating for 50 years just 100 meters from Quadro Alto.
  • The proposed landfill site of Quadro Alto lies right above a falda acquifera (underground water source) very close to the surface, and just several kilometers from the Tiber River. The damage a landfill would do to the water is unfathomable. Hundreds and hundreds of residents rely solely on well water for their homes as no city water is available……I am one of those.
  • The Parco di Veio (a protected regional park) and the Universita’ Agraria are located next to Quadro Alto. The area is filled with innumerable flora and fauna, including over a hundred edible herbs and greens, free range cattle, horses, wild boar, birds and many other creatures.
  • Quadro Alto in Riano is a designated area of archaeological heritage.
  • The city of Rome has made no progress towards an effective recycling program that could move this region away from needing a landfill site. The mayor of San Francisco invited Rome’s mayor Alemanno to visit San Francisco to see how an ideal urban recycling program works. Alemanno did not accept the invitation.
  • No-one has ever been to Riano to perform a site visit at Quadro Alto.
  • No-one has consulted the municipal management, any of Riano’s citizens or those employed at the Quadro Alto quarry site to discuss the plan to turn Quadro Alto into a landfill site.
  • The Quadro Alto site still has hundreds of employees, the underground water source is just below the quarry surface and nothing has been done to prepare the site to be used for landfill. How can it possibly be used in two month’s time when Malagrotta closes?
  • The ecological damage to the Riano area would be overwhelming, as would the economic damage to the residents. Property will lose its value drastically and businesses will suffer and close. Already property values have decreased by over 50% as Riano and Rome citizens live in fear of what may happen in Riano.
Why has Quadro Alto been selected, particularly when no-one has ever visited this possible landfill site? The Riano area has quite a few tufo quarries (Romans have been mining tufo in this area for thousands of years… of the reasons this area is of great archaeological value) and consequently represent already prepared holes in which to dump municipal waste indiscriminately.
Yesterday a great post appeared on this topic on the Under the Tuscan Sun blog. What a wonderful summary of the garbage situation in Rome! I suggest you add it to your favorites and "like" their Facebook page. It's an excellent way to keep up on Italian issues....and enjoy a little tongue in cheek humor!
Rome: WAKE UP!!! It's time to declare war on garbage and on the politicians (Polverini and Alemanno) who are perpetuating one of Rome's dirtiest problems (pardon the pun): the mega-discarica. Join the November 5th Rome city center protest against the proposed new garbage dump in Riano. For details check out the website (give it a few days to be up and running) and follow SOS Discarica Riano on Facebook.


  1. Great summary. I just retweeted and will post to at next update. Keep up the good work. Tom

  2. This is a fantastic bit of journalistic digging. I'm writing a story about this situation for an English language newspaper based in Rome and I'd love to talk to your or communicate via email, but I've been unable to find your contact details on this site. My own email address is: I'd be much obliged if you'd drop me a line.