Bella l’Italia! Shiny square pavement stones in antique piazzas, ornate iron balconies, yellow plastic buckets; street market with colorful produce, green plastic buckets, brown plastic buckets, yellow plastic buckets; strollers out for the passeggiata, cool evening breeze, blue plastic buckets, green plastic buckets, gray plastic buckets; shop windows glowing (yellow plastic bucket, gray plastic bucket, blue plastic bucket) with interesting merchandise; people at the cafe drinking (blue plastic, yellow plastic, green plastic, gray plastic) Campari and having appetizers; narrow (gray plastic bucket)streets (yellow plastic bucket) lined (blue plastic bucket) with….yellow plastic buckets, blue plastic buckets, gray plastic buckets, brown plastic buckets…what is that horrible smell?.. green plastic buckets, another row of plastic buckets and more plastic buckets after those. A conga line of plastic covering every few feet of sidewalk; a colorful and crowded PVC parking lot.
Hoorah, we have solved the garbage problem! Here in Bernalda the local movers and shakers have decided, thanks to some obscure European directive and an excess of optimistic organizing zeal, (and remember that Hell itself has Italians as the organizers, while its chefs are all British) that modern society’s embarrassing effluvium must be sorted. Ah! What green thoughts! Let us by all means sort. Let us follow the Progressive operational thought pattern which places all emphasis on hopes, dreams, and injudicious optimism, and none on final outcome. It is the thought that counts!
We have been issued buckets. Each household will have a green one, a yellow one, a blue one, a gray one, a brown one. One for glass and metal which must be clean (washing out the dogfood cans is one of my favorite tasks, and do not forget to remove the paper label!) or it will never be picked up. One for clean plastic. (I said clean, so get out the soapy water again to wash out that juice bottle!) If the plastic is deemed unclean, it will never be picked up. One for paper, and yes, dare I say it must be clean paper, no used paper here. No oil spots, no soap residue, no pizza stains. The bucket will be shaken, and if the music isn’t right it will not be emptied. It will be opened for inspection, and if failed, it will not be collected. One for organic detritus, which accounts for the smell factor. And lastly, one for “indifferentiated” items. This describes all other refuse which is either stained, greasy, of mixed materials, or otherwise not identified items (I will let your immagination run wild here, but remember babies don’t wear diapers for fashion).
We have all been hired for a new job! It takes a chunk out of the day, sorting through the garbage in order to place it in the appropriate cannisters. And here is the most diabolically clever part of the plan: Each cannister is to be picked up on a different day! So if, like us, you live at the end of a long country road, there is the obligation to carry UP the correct bucket for that day, and carry BACK yesterday’s color to fill again. Of course, while the wait ensues for the “waste managers” to arrive you will need yet another bucket as a temporary receptacle. This system is particularly noxious when the summer temperatures are high and the organic refuse becomes a petri dish producing alarming odors. * Where there are wild dogs and hogs and cats…some extra clean-up will also be required by the homeowner.
Need I add that the “waste managers” are not punctual?
If we understand our own human natures, might the outcome (in a country where garbage collection has been problematical even back when it involved tossing a full plastic bag into a dumpster) be predictable? Yes. The roads, the back streets, the countryside is filling with garbage. People are lazy, people do not have the time, some people are jerks, people have lives which don’t allow for hours a week to sort through malodorous collections of s**t. The irony is that while a brand new dump (it helps if there is a sign which declares dumping illegal) can generate spontaneously in a flash, the New System does not allow the “Waste Managers” to pick up any garbage that is not pre-sorted! It is a Goal! for the rats.
If a bag or cannister is deemed unworthy because of an ominous tinkling on “Paper Day” then imagine what a new roadside amalgamation’s destiny will be? Yes. To grow, to decay, to spontaneously (or not) combust, to join hands eventually with another pile and create a hellish landscape for the enjoyment of locals and tourists alike. La Bella Vita indeed. So far I have seen general amnesia on the part of manufacturers, who continue to package otherwise insignificant items in multiple wrappings; aluminum packets around tin cans in “economical” bundles enclosed in cardboard…which somehow (since we have convinced ourselves that “Now we can just recycle it!”) have multiplied and diversified. I remember when bottles were reused and a big bag of aluminum or steel could be traded for cash. This arrangement also magically contributed to roadside cleanliness and the development of a work ethic in youngsters. But I digress into logic…
Italy is a country that thrives on its tourism. Of course I have thought this through, as have others, and we have our ideas, any of which would be superior to this new “solution.” I am amazed, disillusioned, and embarrassed. I try not to think about the first impression that streets lined with ugly plastic bins and piles of garbage in between has on tourism. Or it could be that tourists here, having heard about Naples and its garbage debacle for years, just take it in stride. Do they expect things to be this way? This is more depressing than imagining their reactions as shocked and appalled!
I could go on, but I have some toothpaste tubes to dismantle and my cannellini cans should have been soaking long enough now to remove the labels before I wash them out with soap…and I forgot to burn the pizza boxes in our fireplace. And today is “green.”**
*Of course, living in the country with dogs, chickens, and a compost pile, this isn’t our particular problem. But most live in apartments and houses in town.
**By “green” I mean the color of the bucket.