Why Are Italians Among The Trashiest People On Earth?

This is a normal, and tolerated, garbage scene on a street in southern Italy.

There will soon be a blog devoted solely to garbage on the Italian seaside south of Naples.

Why? Because there are blossoming stacks of garbage everywhere. Even when trash collectors aren’t on strike. Even when it’s May and there aren’t many tourists to blame.

The norm is piles upon heaps upon full trash bins of smelly rat-infested garbage. Mountains of tossed-away garbage. Even on the beach.

Many beaches in southern Italy and Sicily look like this.

How can one of the most aesthetic developed countries on earth be one of the trashiest?

Is tossing garbage anywhere, and pointedly ignoring waste receptacles, a genetic trait in southern (not that the north is that much better) Italy?

Is this the way Italians declare their personal independence and irritation with authority?

Is the Mafia failing to organize its garbage-collecting troops?

Is it a “sociocultural” thing, as twentysomething Alessandra tried to convince me this morning?

Or has garbage become the latest form of creative expression. Is every litterbug an artist? If so, we’ve got a lot Michelangelos and Leonardos coming our way from southern Italy.

What’s ironical is that the country has one of the most comprehensive recycling plans in the European Union. It just hasn’t caught on.

Wouldn't it be nice if this scene in Erice worked everywhere else!

Actually I’ve learned to appreciate the vast amount of garbage strewn throughout Italy because it contrasts with the country’s omnipresent natural and manmade beauty. Garbage enables me to enjoy, as I MedTrek along the seaside, a yin-and-yang effect. I value beauty much more because of ugly garbage.

Incidentally the reason I thought about garbage today is that there is progress. Look at this neat garbage situation in Balestrate, the home of my Sicilian ancestors. In fact, the northwest corner of Sicily, from Balestrate to San Vito, deserves an award for trying to keep things clean.

Now I can live with this!

And seeing all this garbage gives me more and more anecdotes for a long rumination on the topic, which also says much about southern Italy and the Mezzogiorno mentality, that will appear in my sequel to “The Idiot and the Odyssey: Walking the Mediterranean.

Oh, no, here’s a PS on May 13.

Alas, garbage in southwestern Sicily isn’t as tidy as garbage in northwestern Sicily.

Text: Joel Stratte-McClure

Photos: Judy Barnett (2, Southern Italy), Joel Stratte-McClure (2, Sicily)

Posted on by Joel in Follow The Idiot, Idiotic Musings, Mediterranean Pix

About Joel

Joel Stratte-McClure has been a global trekker since the 1970s. He lived in France for over 30 years, working as a journalist, before he turned his attention to a unique life-time-project of walking the shores of the Mediterranean. The first 4,401 kilometers are explored in his inspirational and entertaining first book "The Idiot and the Odyssey: Walking the Mediterranean." The next 4,401 kilometers are covered in the gods-filled sequel, "The Idiot and the Odyssey II: Myth, Madness and Magic on the Mediterranean,” published on Valentine's Day 2013. The last 4,401 kilometers will be discussed in the last book of the trilogy currently entitled "The Idiot and the Odyssey III: Alexander the Great Walks the Mediterranean."

8 Responses to Why Are Italians Among The Trashiest People On Earth?

  1. Sherry

    I just returned home from a 2 week visit to Italy. We went for 2 weeks last year also. First trip we flew into Florence and toured Tuscany area for 4 days… BEAUTIFUL, VERY CLEAN, NO GARBAGE! From there we took the train to Sorrento in the south, toured The Amalfi Coast; Positano, Ravello, Amalfi and the Island of the Capri for another 4 days… BEAUTIFUL, VERY CLEAN, NO GARBAGE! From there we took the train again to Rome… BEAUTIFUL, VERY CLEAN, NO GARBAGE!
    We loved it so much we decided to go back again this year. So this year we toured Sicily, went back to the Amalfi coast and went to Venice. Every place was beautiful, very clean, no garbage, with the exception of Sicily. Sicily was like traveling to Mexico. There were dogs running everywhere, unbelievable amounts of trash. It was like there was a dump site EVERYWHERE. Siracusa was the only city that was civilized. There was even trash all the way up Mt Etna.

  2. anna

    Why don’t you post pictures of northern Italy? Our beaches are very clean, our cities are clean, Naples is famous all over Italy for its garbage on streets, I wonder why you foreigners always talk about southern Italians as if they were the whole Italians.
    The picture you showed from Erice is what I see everyday in northern Italy. We’re civilezed even if you try to make us seem dirty and uncivilized.
    Have a nice day!

  3. Personally Here and Now

    HAHAHA! I was looking to see if Mexico was the trashiest place on the planet, and came across your blog here. Marvelous! We need to really have a world wide vote here on this particular subject, as it is SO IMPORTANT and SoO timely! Who will win? Italians or Mexicans? or some other UN-conscious people that inhabit this glorious place we call planet home. It always staggers my mind how people are constantly just throwing garbage around, it floats in the air, clogs all the drains, sticks in trees, is burned to emit horrendous toxins in the air, there is now the biggest island in history in the Pacific, all floating trash. Suppose that humans will be engulfed in their own trash one day, ya think?

    • Joel

      Don’t get me started but there are no lack of competitors for the trashiest people/places on earth.

  4. darla

    Do they have any litter laws? Found this list on Wikipedia and didn’t realize how long a golf ball would last.

    It often takes a long time before litter from the environment disappears. List of how long litter affects the environment

    * Paper and paperboard: 6 months
    * Used Cigarettes: 2–5 years
    * Plastic (PET) Soda Bottles: 5–10 years
    * Plastic shopping bags: 10–30 years
    * Gum: 20–25 years
    * Tin Can: 80–100 years
    * Polystyrene Chip Wrapping: 90 years
    * Aluminum Can: 200–400 years
    * Sixpack Bottle Wrapping: 450 years
    * Golf Ball: 100–1000 years

    • Joel

      Fortunately there aren’t that many golf balls in all that mess!

  5. Leslie Williams Schwerdt

    Certainly is a “pick up” problem there. Pick up your own mess and pick up the garbage in the containers.

    • Joel

      Actually it’s a combination of problems that, for the moment, seems to baffle the entire country which, by all appearances, is not all that concerned. Ever omward through the mess to Calypso on Gozo.

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