The Ecomafia

Criminal organisations committing crimes that cause damage to the environment represent what is currently known as EcoMafia. The main illegal activities committed, and unfortunately, damaging the environmental balance are the trafficking and the illegal waste disposal, illegal housing and forests arson.


A far as the waste cycle is concerned, crimes can occur during the production, transport and disposal.

The waste producer, for example, can make a false statement about the quantity or the typology of waste to be disposed of or he can get round the law charging with the disposal activity some dealers that, using illegal ways, will work below cost. In the case of transport,

on one hand, tampering with a classification of goods document can allow a destination change or it can make very hard to inspect and trace the load.

During disposal operations, finally, crimes and frauds are more likely to happen. To mention a few cases:

- Fictitious changes of disposal facilities;

- Abandonment of materials accumulated following fraudulent bankruptcy of enterprises;

- Faulty or inappropriate handling of dangerous substances;

- Dumping of waste in quarries turned into illegal dump sites;

Dumping of “special” waste (produced by farming, construction, demolition and digging activities, from industrial and handicraft processing) in urban solid waste authorised-only landfills.

A legally managed disposal facility must comply with specific purpose restrictions and its environmental impact must be checked for a lapse of time of 30 years after the end of its use. For this reason layers of clay, sand and soil are used to isolate the different waste levels, in order to prevent dangerous substances from infiltrating the soil and protect the air from degradation-derived gas emissions.

Risks connected to this kind of illegal activities concern, first of all, health damages for the workers involved in the handling, recycling, recovering or final disposal and, in relation to the hazardous waste transport, the environmental pollution of the transit and destination areas.

Behind the big profit deriving from this kind of criminal acts, moreover, there is also the exploitation of the countries where waste is illegally dumped; countries whose technologies, facilities and resources do not match the requirements for a correct disposal or secure recycling.

International trafficking of waste coming from European countries leaving from or in transit through Italy is destined for countries like Nigeria, Mozambique, Somalia, Senegal, Tunisia, Pakistan and China. People take advantage of the economic weakness of developing countries to the detriment of their environmental protection and health security.

This implies also a disincentive to reducing waste production:

The higher is the quantity of waste circulating the harder is its disposal, hence, the stronger is the possibility for the EcoMafia to commit illegal operations and earn higher profits.

Criminal organisations take advantage of their power and control on the territory to force an indiscriminate use of those dumping facilities legally bound to collect specific types of materials or to turn quarries into huge illegal dump sites.

The role played by “traditional” mafia organisations, therefore, is very important in the framework of “ecomafia” related activities, but usually, who contributes to establishing networks committing environmental crimes are private companies, corrupt local administrators and inspection bodies.

The Parliamentary Commission for Investigation on the Waste Cycle, in the mid ‘90s, outlined this situation and in the final report it is stated:

” (...) Organised crime is not the only one to operate illegally. There are, in fact, commercial companies or enterprises not connected to it, but having as “business name” illegal waste management, especially of industrial origin. The lowest common denominator is looking for the cheapest waste disposal ways, without any control on the final destination of the waste. In the illegal handling of the waste cycle there are not any competition forms or clashes as in the other criminal sectors (drug trafficking or racket control): business is indeed so considerable that criminals prefer collaboration instead of ruthless competition (...)"

However, if the illegal activities established by the police during 2007 are almost trebled compared to the past years, an estimate of the EcoMafia “income” shows a decrease in the turnover related to the waste cycle.

This data is due to the effectiveness of the prevention and repressive activities performed by the police, in particular the Carabinieri “Nucleo Operativo Ecologico” (NOA) - Environmental Operations Task Force- recently named Command for Environmental Protection, by the “Guardia di Finanza” (Customs Police) and by the State  “Corpo Forestale” (Forest Rangers).

However, the citizens’ active participation is needed on this side.

The damage caused by illegal behaviours such as the indiscriminate waste disposal, the transport and transit of polluting or dangerous materials failing to comply with the safety regulations, the settlement of illegal dump sites, directly affect the local ecosystem, the salubrity of neighbouring farming areas and aquifers and the health of those living in the areas concerned.

If, for example, we see someone carelessly transporting waste or abandoning it in the countryside we should immediately report that to the police forces.

If we are aware of or come across small or big areas currently used as dumping facilities or if we know about illegal dump sites in our neighbourhood, we should indicate those areas to the Public Prosecutor's Office or the Major or the competent local authorities.

Being more aware of risks, involved, raise awareness and inform on these issues should become a daily habit for our and our towns’ well-being.

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