As of about a year, the City of Levanto, resident population ca. 5,500, has undertaken an experiment in becoming a zero waste municipality. This is the mark of serious change, not to mention an example for the future, because if you can get Levanto to do this, then anyone can do it. I offer my evidence from non-sustainable practices in Levanto’s past:
When my friend Vittorio was clearing land over a decade ago for the construction of his bed & breakfast Villa Caterina, he found the following things underground, buried there in someone’s own personal landfill: hefty-bags full of trash; half-full paint cans; and one red Vespa from the 1950s.
One of the unfortunate habits of people in this area is the dumping of brush, grass clippings, and canes in the river bed. The excess trash and vegetation in these run-offs participated negatively to the extent of the flooding in 2011 in the Cinque Terre.
The favorite way of dealing with clippings, be they of the reasonable kind, like new shoots from an olive tree, or of the unreasonable kind, like entire agave plants standing over five feet tall, is burning. The greener the clippings, the more diesel fuel required. While not tremendously bad, certainly it would be better to use all of these clipping for biomass energy sources or composting.
Just 2 weeks ago, the beaches of Levanto were closed for a couple of days. Reason? The large household sewage pipe that runs under the beach and out into the Mediterranean to dump its contents had broken. (Unfortunately, this dumping practice is common along the Italian coast, so don’t use it as an excuse not to come to Levanto … at least they monitor it.) The project for building a water purifying system for sewage water has been stuck in City Hall for 30 years.
So hats off to the City for pushing through this Zero Waste policy. Granted, their version of zero waste is of the less radical kind, being more a total recycling policy rather than a plan for effective reuse of waste, but it’s still a major step up. Dumpsters have disappeared, different kinds of separated wastes are collected daily from your curbside, and the city dump has become very finicky about how you bring your over-sized waste. It’s a very good start.
And like I said, if you can get everyone in an entire town with bad recycling habits like Levanto to start dividing their trash and setting it out every night in front of their homes just by taking away the dumpsters and offering a new service, well then there’s hope for all of us.