When city governments fail to manage waste its citizens may be forced to take matters into their own hands. Take the Italian city of Naples for example. When its garbage collection services reached crisis levels in the summer of 2008 after a municipal worker strike the previous year and the national governments under Romano Prodi, and later, Silvio Berlusconi continually delayed resolving the issue to this twenty year old problem, frustrated citizens took action. Emiliana Mellone, a 27 year old student at the time, was resentful that her city had gained an international reputation as a garbage dump. Global newscasts were showing pictures of some of the 200,000 tons of uncollected garbage that had piled up throughout city streets. The citizens of Naples, along with their local fire departments, were left to their own devices.
Desperate for change to happen, Emiliana took to social media and began blogging under the title: CleaNap (“clean up” and “Naples”). She appealed for volunteers to help separate the heaps of rubbish and spruce up the increasingly grungy public piazzas. The results were better than expected. Volunteers appeared in the hundreds, and then thousands. Flower shops and local retailers began donating plants and tools for their guerilla gardening projects, and soon, the Italian media was reporting on “the new angels from Napoli.” One of CleaNap’s most successful clean-ups took place in the woefully neglected Porta Capuana section of the city where mothers, children, students, homeless and illegal immigrants participated.
This grassroots action by a concerned citizen is one example of the efficacy of environmental activism and should be an inspiration for those living in other countries whose local governments are failing them in the most basic of citizen rights to a clean and healthy living environment. Throughout the world, people are coming to realize that green-living is not just a luxury for those living in more developed countries, but rather a universal human right.
Europe: The European Commission decided that they want the European Union to be a Zero Waste Union by 2020. Even though that 80% of the municipal solid waste (MSW) in Europe is recyclable or compostable the rate of MSW will be reduced to 5% by 2020. Hence, this practically means the end of waste disposal in Europe.
San Francisco has reduced its landfill waste by 77 percent – this is the highest diversion rate in the United States – and is on track to reach 90% by 2020.
In Pune, India a door-to-door collection service operated by a cooperative of almost 2,000 grassroots recyclers has been integrated into the city’s waste management system and diverts enough waste to avoid 640,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually.
The Flanders region of Belgium has achieved 73 percent diversion of residential waste, the highest regional rate in Europe by aggressive standards and incentives for both individual and businesses.
In Taiwan, community opposition to incineration pushed the government to adopt goals and programs for waste prevention and recycling that were so successful that the quantity of waste decreased significantly even as the population increased and the economy grew.
In Buenos Aires, by organizing into cooperatives and taking collective political action, grassroots recyclers, or “cartoneros,” have encouraged the city to adopt waste separation at its source, an essential step toward its goal of 75 percent diversion by 2017.