Lucca, Italy is Incinerator Free: A Short History

by Rossano Ercolini
September 20th, 2010
The yellow dots mark the victories against incinerators since 1996, larger photograph on AmbienteFuturo’s website. Map: Courtesy of AmbienteFutoro.

In 1996 when the province of Lucca in the Tuscany region of Italy faced its first incinerator proposal, AmbienteFutoro, an Italian environmental group and GAIA member, sought help from Dr. Paul Connett, incinerator expert and GAIA ally. At the community’s request Dr. Connett went to Lucca province, home to over 300,000 people, and educated citizens about the major environmental and health concerns produced by incineration. Despite opposition from the entire community, the regional government of Tuscany accepted the incinerator proposal. In 1997 construction began on the Pietrasanta incinerator. During construction community members continued to show their opposition. In one demonstration activists were beaten by police and over one-hundred of them were put on trial. Fortunately, after a few years they were absolved of any wrongdoing.

In 2003 the Pietrasanta plant began operating at 60,000 RDF tons per year, but after only eight days it failed to meet dioxin emissions standards and was closed. Months later it reopened with an Amesa system for dioxin emission control placed on only one of the plant’s two lines. Residents and activists were very disappointed. AmbienteFuturo and other local activists continued to organize public meetings and activities, including taking action on GAIA’s Global Day of Action. They also began to promote door-to-door waste collection and a zero waste vision.

In 2007 the incinerator was sold to Veolia and began operating again. Tests in early 2008 showed that dioxin emissions by Pietrasanta were above legal standards, and public officials opened an investigation. In July the plant was closed. AmbienteFuturo and other local groups held press conferences with Dr. Paul Connett and other experts to raise awareness of the dangers of incinerators. They also held meetings with local mayors asking them to help shut down the Pietrasanta plant, but because the plant was built under a project financing contract, the mayors were under strict obligation to deliver their municipalities’ waste to the plant or risk paying large fees.

In January 2009 one line of the plant started again under tight regulation from local authorities, but after some months it again failed to pass emissions tests. At the same time, local watchdog groups announced to public officials that Veolia was discharging polluted water into the Rio Baccatoio, a small river very close to the plant. On July 8th, 2010 public officials seized the incinerator and shut it down. Four of the waste management plant staff, including a top finance manager, were put on trial.

All of the mayors in Lucca Province have now begun to promote a door-to-door waste collection system in their municipalities. Their efforts are already paying off; one municipality in the area, Seravezza, has reached an 80% recycling/composting rate and declared a zero waste target by 2020. In addition the mayors, urged by local citizens, are asking Veolia to pay for the pollution and will take part in the trial against the company.

The Piestrasanta incinerator is not the only incinerator in the province to close recently due to popular opposition and economic and technical challenges. As a result, the Lucca province is completely free of incinerators, and the Capannori and Seravezza municipalities have committed to zero waste. AmbienteFuturo is now asking the provincial government to make Lucca the first zero waste Italian province. Fifteen years of grassroots work has enabled the province of Lucca to potentially realize a future of zero waste solutions without incinerators.

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