In Hindsight

Cleaning Up

In May, things got messy. Really messy. Garbage everywhere, and cities and states struggled to figure out a place to stow the trash.

This month, across the globe, garbage piled up and the places to get rid of it dwindled. There were almost as many mentions of waste disposal in the May news as there are chickens thrown out in Britain (5,500 a day, to be exact) or TVs dumped in Australian landfills (two million this year). During the month of May, the world got pretty trashed.

It’s expected that government will oversee a country’s waste disposal management. But sometimes things don’t work out that way. On May 6, the European Union demanded the Italian government clean up the tons of garbage overflowing the streets of Naples since trash collection in the city all but halted last December. Residents equally angry with the Italian government because of the trash have taken a different tack. Voice of America news reported on May 19 that “In their despair and anger residents have taken to burning the trash at night, overturning dumpsters and throwing their garbage in the countryside. They have been attacking firefighters attempting to put out the fires.”

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi took a break from implementing heavy-handed anti-immigration policies to deal with the Naples waste-disposal crisis at his first cabinet meeting in the city on May 21. But part of his solution—opening landfills in a poor neighborhood and zoning them as military sites—has led to a another problem: riots.

It’s not just Italians who don’t want Italian garbage in their backyards. On May 8, eight states in the western U.S. blocked EnergySolutions, Inc.’s, plan to send tons of radioactive waste from Italy to Utah.

Residents of Burnaby, British Columbia, are dumping their trash in a neighborhood cul-de-sac. Nicknamed “Garbage Island” by nearby residents, it’s become the main illegal dumping site in the city. Sergio Sedia and his wife Giulia are so afraid of Italian waste that, as reported on May 22, they’re seeking environmental asylum in Switzerland. The couple lives in the town of Cimitile, outside Naples, in an area the Lancet once called the “Triangle of Death,” referring to its high rates of cancer and deformity due to illegal dumping of toxic and chemical waste. The couple has been denied asylum once already because “Italy is a state with the rule of law.” It’s just not really a state of order.

Like all great crises, waste disposal is a worldwide problem. Even Toronto, which is striving to be the greenest city in North America, has to throw its garbage somewhere. Since 1998, that somewhere has been Michigan. However, following a May 23 garbage delivery accident near London, Ontario, that killed its driver and shut down the highway for the day while crews cleaned up the spilled garbage, some are calling for Toronto to change its garbage policy.

Elsewhere in Canada, residents of Burnaby, British Columbia, are dumping their trash in a neighborhood cul-de-sac. Nicknamed “Garbage Island” by nearby residents, it’s become the main illegal dumping site in the city. According to Bill Walls, who lives in a nearby condo, “One of the apartment buildings actually had a sign up, directing tenants to dump unwanted furniture and appliances on the island.” And in Canadian illegal-dumping news on a larger scale, on May 2 a Trinidadian container ship was detained amid allegations it had released tons of bilge waste into waters off Newfoundland. For those new to disgusting container-ship waste practices, bilge is “can contain water, oil, urine, detergents, solvents, sweat, blood, chemicals, pitch, saliva, particles, and so forth.”

Back in the U.S., helpful and industrious Wisconsinites collected 3,000 pounds of garbage from the Wisconsin River this month. And while picking up litter by a different Wisconsin river, three youths found a grenade.

Despite the occasional hiccup, trash is slowly finding its way into landfills and incinerators. In May it was reported methane gas given off from landfills in Los Angeles, Flint, Mich., and Fredericton, New Brunswick, is being turned into usable energy to power local homes.

Proper disposal of trash took on even greater importance in Pinetop-Lakeside, Ariz., where on May 27 it was reported that young bears found feasting from residents’ garbage cans posed a threat to humans and would have to be killed. Not only can garbage spark riots and create a “Triangle of Death,” it can increase the likelihood of animal attacks. With June around the corner once more, we’re doing everything we can to keep the beasts at bay.


TMN Editor Nicole Pasulka believes she could beat a lie detector. When she sits in a chair she almost never puts her feet on the floor. Even though she likes the internet a lot, she is convinced that people will always read magazines and she is secretly building one in her basement. More by Nicole Pasulka