Catania After an engaging number of hours with a collection of officials from neighboring towns, activists, students, professors, and others discussing the principles of community organization and the “burning issues” they brought to the workshop, I caught a lift with Paolo Guarnaccia one of the driving forces behind ViveSimeto to use the wireless at his farmhouse not too far away. Joining us was the head of the Zero Waste Movement for Italy who lived not far from Florence. The real point of the journey turned out to be showing me where their fight to save the river and its communities was really joined in a long campaign opposing incinerator construction.
First we saw the “old school” way in which one of the small river towns was simply piping waste into the Simeto, seemingly without a care in the world or any concern for their own health and well being. Another couple of kilometers away in a non-descript acreage between two low-lying hills no signs marked the proposed site of a landfill that would hold ash from incinerator operations. Moving along a rougher road another few kilometers brought us to what looked like an abandoned industrial site, which was part of the incinerator operation itself.
Paulo help me piece together the Italian words on the sign. The project was started and expected to be in full operation by 2006, but here we were in 2009 looking at the skeleton of an operation. In this long running campaign the incinerator had rushed into operation but then had been stopped by the opposition because the private developer had failed to bother to get the necessary permits to allow the operation.
Converting waste into energy through fire is at the heart of the incinerating process. The byproduct ash though is highly polluting and requires care and disposal. Paulo was a trained agronomist specializing in organic farming operations, but he didn’t have to be much of an expert to kick the soil near the fence and find ash deposits from the brief operation of the plant.
The bad news in this campaign is that the incinerator seems set to fire up again in the near future. Despite the problems and history, the gaping loophole is that the government can declare an emergency in the national safety of the country and on those grounds put aside all other restraints and objections and move full steam head.
The public ambivalence doesn’t help. Turning the problem of waste from overflowing landfills into energy, sounds like a “win-win” situation, especially when the opposition offers as the alternative the hard work of constant recycling, so this is not an easy battle. Shrewdly ViveSimeto has turn the tables in this fight by arguing that agri-tourism, the beauty of the river, and the livelihood of the nearby farming communities has to be promoted and that such a vision dies in the pollution of the incinerator.
This fight is far from over.