When In Rome… Some Littering Tips

Rome is a strange place. Yeah, OK, there’s the 2,000+ years’ worth of architecture and memorials that have made it a perennial tourist “must-see” since the 18th-century days of the Grand Tour for sons of the English aristocracy. Yet that same Rome has now caught the “we hate tourists” fever, introducing new, tourist-unfriendly statutes which seem to cast the city’s storied history as a film-set into oblivion: NO more sitting on the Spanish steps as Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck did together in “Roman Holiday” (1953; that’ll be up to a €400 fine); NO more jumping into the Trevi Fountain as Anita Ekberg did in “La Dolce Vita” (1960; that could cost you up to €450).

(BTW I also note how in the same NYT piece it reports “Penalties for graffiti were toughened.” Quite right: No more graffiti scrawled after, say, 1400 CE, should be acceptable.)

The Rome authorities obviously think they can take up this martinet attitude because people will never stop wanting to come visit their city. But nowadays they really test visitors’ patience further with their manifest incompetence in running the city. Namely: garbage everywhere: “Landfills in flames and rats feasting on waste in the streets,” apparently caused (in part) by a NIMBY attitude towards waste incinerators. (The buses there also occasionally spontaneously burst into flame – another token of municipal incompetence.)

For those of the famously clean, Puritan districts of the Netherlands, all that could be enough just to stay home. After all, at least there they have their trash under control. But do they?

They do not, as Volkskrant columnist Harriët Duurvoort advises us in a recent column. Certainly not in Rotterdam – and she lives there. She can see the trash pile up excessively in the kliko’s – the dumpsters – right outside her front door. She has the buiten-beter app (“better outside”) provided by the city for complaining about trash, has likely signed her own name to the Vuilnisbelt Rotterdam (“Rotterdam’s a dump”) petition that is going around – but she has drawn the line at the city’s offer to have her “adopt” a dumpster:

To assist you in keeping the area around the container clean, you receive gratis a key for opening the container from the side to deal with any blockages, a stick, work-gloves and a broom for sweeping up garbage next to the container.

She also knows about Bert Wijbenga, the city councilor from the business-friendly VVD party, responsible for outside areas, who has opined “collecting trash less often doesn’t have to be disadvantageous” and who wants to save €17 million yearly from the city budget that way. But he still has enough budget for “flying squads” charged with catching people in the act of dumping excessive trash in, around or completely away from those dumpsters.

Also Pretty Trashy Elsewhere

Finally, she’s also well-aware that the problem is not confined to Rotterdam (the trick is Googling the phrase zooi naast kliko’s: “trash next to dumpsters”). She’s right about that. Amsterdam doesn’t have a particular phobia hosting incinerators, but the problem is that the ovens run by Afval Energie Bedrijf Amsterdam (AEB – wholly owned by the city of Amsterdam) recently had to shut down due to “serious technical problems.” That’s affecting not only Amsterdam but a host of neighboring cities and towns who also relied on being able to send AEB their trash.

What’s more, other countries relied on the same – mainly the UK. Yes, the Netherlands once had its garbage-act so together that it could handle disposing of the stuff from outside its own borders (for money, of course)! But no more: the authorities are now scrambling to cancel the contracts obliging them to do that. (Note that this has nothing to do with Brexit!) And the trash piles up alarmingly, everywhere. (If not as egregiously in Rome – yet!)

So maybe Netherlanders might as well head to the Eternal City after all? The food is much better there, for one thing; and just as is apparently true back home, when they’re through with their take-out margherita pizza they can simply drop the box and any uneaten remains pretty much where they like!

UPDATE: This piece in the Financiële Dagblad (the Netherlands’ leading business newspaper: paywall!) tells how the situation at Amsterdam’s AEB trash-incinerating company is even worse than first reported: it’s downright anarchy!

A power-struggle between the “white collars” of the office and the “blue collars” of the incinerator-installation [has] brought the Amsterdam trash-processor to the edge of the abyss.

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