(CN) – Italy failed to fulfill its obligations to the European Union when it allowed tens of thousands of tons of waste to pile up in the densely populated southern region of Campania, the Court of Justice ruled.
The European Commission sued Italy after a 2007 crisis allowed more than 60,000 tons of trash to accumulate along roads in Naples and other areas of the Campania region. Another 121,000 to 132,000 tons of waste awaited disposal in municipal storage. Frustrated residents set fire to the roadside detritus, causing smoke and fumes.
Italy had blamed contractors and the Mafia for the waste-management problems, naming these along with local opposition as a “force majeure” justifying its failure to manage the garbage.
Italy also claimed that the accumulation of waste had not caused any harmful health or environmental effects.
The Court of Justice rejected these arguments, saying the crisis resulted from a structural deficit of waste disposal facilities. None of the named factors represented a superior force, and Italy itself admitted that the problem clearly caused harm to human health and the environment, the court ruled.
Although member states retain some discretion on refuse management, Italy must follow a “principle of proximity” and build disposal facilities as close as possible to sources of non-hazardous urban waste, the court concluded.
Residents in the Campanian town of Serre in 2007 had protested construction of a new dump there. Much of the Neapolitan rubbish was sent by train to a German facility for processing, although an investigation found this also involved solid-waste profiteering.