The waste management crisis in Naples, Italy, is peaking again. About two thousands tons of waste lie in the streets, since landfills are overfilled and nobody knows where to put the mixed solid waste of a two-million people urban area. Waste piles are often set on fire, putting the citizens’ and the environment’s health at risk. It is an old problem, but the recent election of a new left-wing mayor (a former prosecutor attorney) has raised new hopes among the population. According to many reports from local media, the inhabitants are now actively participating to the cleaning of the streets with many initiatives being started. One of them, the crowdmapping of the most critical situations – mainly fires of uncollected waste and people’s protests – has been widely publicized through the media and it’s named “Emergenza Spazzatura” (i.e., Waste Emergency). Repubblica.it (a popular news website in Italy behind the project) has deployed the Ushahidi platform to collect and show information about illegal dumps, dirty streets and burning piles in collaboration with a citizen journalists collective, Valigia Blu. Actually, the idea is not entirely new – there are at least two other parallel projects, both dating back to 2010. The first one is a practical homework assigned at the journalism school of the Naples “Orientale” University; the second has been called “Rifiutiamoci” by its founder, Pietro Blu Giandonato. Both deployments are not in good shape, right now, and are receiving no contribution a few months after their launch.
Here is one of the main difficulties of citizen science: ICT tools not only facilitate the participation to other’s project (which is good), but also encourage the proliferation of projects monitoring the same phenomenon (which is not always good). Decentralization allows citizens to join research projects, but concentration is often needed to make some sense of the collected data. Successful citizen science projects result from a successful mix of these opposite forces. Will “Emergenza Spazzatura” be the right one?