Rubbish piles up in Rome as holidays and rain disrupt collections

Mounds of uncollected rubbish have been piling up in Rome since Christmas Eve, with some residents setting them on fire in protest against a municipal administration that has failed to deliver on its promise to tackle the city’s waste.
Scenes of overflowing bins and bags spilling out their contents have been shared on social media as collections by the public services firm, Ama, were disrupted by holidays and heavy downpours.
“The situation right now is chronic,” said Massimiliano Tonelli, the founder of Roma Fa Schifo (Rome is Disgusting). “During this period, Ama never manages to organise collections well but things have got worse over the last couple of years.”
Rome has been managed by the Five Star Movement, which is leading in opinion polls ahead of general elections on 4 March, since Virginia Raggi was elected mayor in June 2016. Solving the rubbish crisis was one of her campaign pledges, but an ambitious plan launched in April has so far proved futile.
Neighbourhoods beyond the city centre, which is usually better maintained due to the number of visitors it attracts, have been the worst affected in recent days.
“The rubbish pile-up here gets bad during holidays and when Ama goes on strike,” said Shelly Ruelle, an American who lives in EUR, an area south of the centre.
“It’s not any worse this year. The decline has been going on for at least the past four or five years. The problem is endemic to Rome bureaucracy and there are major mismanagement issues within the individual entities [that manage public services].”
Meanwhile in Ostia, a seaside suburb, residents have been setting bins alight. Four incidents were reported on Boxing Day.
Despite reports of some areas being cleaned up on Friday morning, the situation is expected to continue through the New Year holiday period.
About 70,000 tonnes a year of the city’s household rubbish is sent to a waste-to-energy plant in Austria. Tuscany also shares some of the burden, while a potential deal with the Emilia-Romagna region is in jeopardy due to fraught relations with Rome’s administration.
“Even if collections were super-efficient, there is nowhere to take the rubbish,” said Tonelli.
Still, Rome’s problems are unlikely to dent the popularity of the Five Star Movement before general elections. “They make no impact on the polls,” said Tonelli. “But one thing is certain – this new political class is worse than the previous one.”