Where Have All the Garbage Men Gone?

[Week 14] Overflowing trash bins, a daily sight in Rome.
[Week 14] Overflowing trash bins, a daily sight in Rome.
This has been a constant question in my mind for a while now. Are all the garbage men on strike?

This is a photo of the bins closest to my house, the ones we tend to throw trash in. At the moment they’re overflowing, yes, but it’s a good day. Generally they spill over much further onto the sidewalk than this.

On my way to school, I pass by three other sets of bins: one beside the Cuba fermata (where the often-missing 53 is supposed to stop), one beside the San Roberto Bellarmino church, and one right between the church and the LUISS Viale Romania campus. There are also a set of bins further up my street, across Bar Lima.  They are always invariably full. Most days, trash actually sits outside the cans, because they’re so full that it’s impossible to stuff more bags into them.

A few weeks back, on the day I had to make an early run to the Agenzia delle Entrate, I caught a glimpse of a garbage truck. It was around 6:20am and I was waiting by the Cuba stop. The little truck parked in front of the church’s bins and two men hopped out, tossed a few of the outlying trash bags into the back, then hopped back in and drove off. I’m not sure if this is how regular trash runs go as it’s the only time I’ve ever seen one, but surely there’s a more efficient way? The bin wasn’t emptied at all! And weren’t those bins designed to be picked up by some kind of mechanical system in such a way that they can be lifted and have the contents emptied in their entirety? Or are “real” garbage trucks unable to navigate Roman streets because of all the badly parked cars (see photo)?

In relation to this question of garbage and efficiency, there seems to be a general who-cares attitude to waste, with people letting their dogs defecate wherever they please— usually on sidewalks, making walking around at night particularly dangerous! There is a street between my home and the LUISS Viale Pola campus that is a minefield of dog shit, if you would pardon the expression. I’m not just talking about the little pellets of poop that smaller dog breeds leave; many Italian dog-owners have larger breeds that of course, leave much bigger and sometimes rather daunting loads. Why? Why is it so hard to pick up after your dog? The sidewalk is a public space, not your animal’s personal toilet. (There are no photos of any of that here because no. Just no.)

While the boy and I were in Perugia, I remember the look of utter surprise and appreciation the bar owner gave me when I cleared out our table myself and threw the disposable cups and plates in to the trash. It wasn’t a fancy place by far, you can tell by the disposable utensils, but now that I reflect more on the attitude of Italians towards their trash, I understand how foreign my actions must have been. “My trash, my responsibility” seems to be a norm that has yet to take root.


LUISS seems to be making an effort: this photo shows a student-led segregation initiative. That said, if you were to find yourself on either campus during the breakfast or lunch rush, you’d see tissues strewn across the grounds and spoons, forks, cups, cigarette wrappers, gum wrappers, and other random trash everywhere. But thankfully, no dog shit.

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