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A new meaning for the term ”Eurotrash” was announced by the Court of Justice of the EU in the case of Commission v Italy, case C-298/08. Italy’s inability to clean up a 2007 garbage crisis around Naples was found to be a violation of the European Waste Directive, in the Court’s opinion.
Garbage disposal, or lack thereof, has been a longstanding problem in the region of Campania. Residents have suffered periodic trash emergencies during the past 14 years, which sometimes included rotting trash piled up along the public roads. Many reasons have been suggested for this situation including political corruption, organized crime and opposition from NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) residents who object to having garbage dumps close to their homes.
In 2007, the situation was so extreme that then-Prime Minister Prodi ordered the army to clear the rubbish that was blocking entry to schools and hospitals. Current Prime Minister Berlusconi sent trainloads of waste to Germany before declaring the crisis over in July of 2008.
According to the Court, the goal of the European Waste Directive is to protect human life and the environment. Member states are required to make sure that waste is recovered or disposed of, and that production of waste is limited, particularly through using clean technologies and recycling schemes. Each state must establish an integrated and adequate network of disposal installations which can make it possible for the member state, individually, and the EU, as a whole, to become self-sufficient in garbage disposal.
When Italy transposed the directive, in 2006, the regional law for Campania defined 18 homogenous territorial zones for trash management and disposal. However, in 2007, after the garbage crisis had developed in Campania, the Commission brought proceedings against Italy, on the grounds that Italy had failed to establish adequate disposal installations for that region. In defense, Rome alleged that it had increased the level of sorted waste collection, had built more incinerators and opened two more landfills. It tried to dump the blame on breaches of public procurement contracts and criminal conduct outside of its control, saying that Italy should be absolved on a force majeure theory. The Court rejected this blame-shifting, opining that not even criminal activity could justify Italy’s failure to have its requisite facilities up and running on time. The court emphasized that  the 55, 000 tons of waste that littered the public roads, together with the 110,000-120,000 tons which lay in the municipal storage sites awaiting treatment, created odors, damaged the countryside, and were used to set fires. This situation constituted a danger to human health and the environment and the court therefore concluded that Italy failed to fulfill its obligations under the Waste Directive.