Rome's garbage piles up, sparking public health fears

Overflowing trash bins in Rome. Of the city's three main landfills, one has closed and the others were ravaged by fire recently. Two biological treatment sites have reduced their activities for maintenance work. Doctors are warning families to steer
Overflowing trash bins in Rome. Of the city's three main landfills, one has closed and the others were ravaged by fire recently. Two biological treatment sites have reduced their activities for maintenance work. Doctors are warning families to steer clear of disease-ridden kerbside garbage.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

ROME • Landfills in flames and rats feasting on waste in the streets have sparked health fears in the Italian capital, Rome, as doctors warn families to steer clear of disease-ridden kerbside garbage and locals launch a disgusting dumpster contest online.

Crowds of summer tourists are being forced to navigate overflowing bins in the stifling heat, as the pungent stench of neglected garbage draws scavenging animals and the threat of disease to the Eternal City, while locals fume over the city's refuse management.

Rome's chief physician Antonio Magi has issued a "hygiene alert", which could be upgraded to a health warning, with disease spreading through the faeces of insects and animals feasting on rotting waste.

The warning prompted local prosecutors to open an inquiry into the city's refuse collection.

Meanwhile, furious Romans have launched a contest on Twitter to find the most fetid dustbins.

Discarded pizza boxes and the remains of spaghetti lunches and fruit rinds are drawing opportunistic seagulls, rats and even wild boars to the streets of Rome.

Adding to the indignation of Rome residents is the steep price they are paying for their garbage to rot in the streets. The city spent more than €597 (S$913) per inhabitant on household waste treatment in 2017 - by far the highest in the country, ahead of Venice (€353) and Florence (€266), a report by the Openpolis Foundation said.

 
 

But the city lacks infrastructure: Of its three main landfills, one has closed and the others were ravaged by fire recently. And two biological treatment sites have reduced their activities for maintenance work.

Rome's mayor and the president of the Lazio region both assured Italy's environment minister last Tuesday that the crisis would be resolved "within 15 days". But to do so, more of the city's 5,000 tonnes of daily waste will have to be sent for incineration elsewhere - and no one wants an incinerator, said a resident.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 14, 2019, with the headline 'Rome's garbage piles up, sparking public health fears'. Print Edition | Subscribe