Garbage island: Corsican officials block rubbish dump as waste overflows

No rubbish incinerator on France’s so-called 'island of beauty' means more than 60,000 tonnes of waste is being dumped underground every year, a catastrophic scenario for some alarmed local officials.

Garbage island: Corsican officials block rubbish dump as waste overflows
Photos: AFP

One of only two waste landfills in Corsica has been partially blocked since Monday morning as part of an initiative by local elected officials who are calling for comprehensive long-term solutions to the repellent issue of waste disposal on the island.

For the past three years, Prunelli di Fium'Orbu rubbish landfill in central Corsica has increased its capacity from 43,000 to 60,000 tonnes per year.

The local municipality is up in arms about the rise, arguing that the dumpsite is way over full capacity, and is therefore only allowing rubbish lorries from their community to dump waste at the site.

“We’ve reached 40,000 tonnes already this year, we can only bury a further 3,000 tonnes,” Prunelli di Fium'Orbu mayor Pierre Siméon de Buochberg is quoted as saying by French magazine l’Express.

The situation at the Viggianello dumpsite in the south of the island is just as alarming, spurring their municipality to also carry out a blockade earlier this year.

A proposal to dig deeper into the ground to make room for a further 223,500 tonnes of waste has been met by reluctance on the part of local residents and elected representatives.

But Gilles Simeoni, president of Corsica’s executive council, called on Monday for the 60,000 tonnes a year limit be kept for an additional three years, whilst waving a plan to allegedly reduce buried waste by 60 percent by 2021.

“There will be a transitional period of three years when the production of waste from Corsica will be greater than the island’s landfill capacity,” Simeoni said.

“We are therefore obliged to ask staff at the two landfills to put in the extra effort pending alternative solutions.”

Before lifting the blockade, Prunelli di Fium'Orbu’s mayor demanded “strong guarantees” vis-à-vis the change to waste disposal as well as “investment in road development, digital and health” in the municipality.

The lack of a rubbish incinerator and the fact that Corsica’s only two landfill sites are almost permanently operating at full capacity has turned the waste management crisis into one of the Mediterranean island’s biggest problems.

In 2017, Corsica generated 450 tonnes of residual waste per day during the low season (February) and 770 tonnes in high season (August). That’s according to Syvadec, the public body that treats waste on the island. 

Up to 26 percent of Corsican households’ waste is sorted in Corsica (59,013 tonnes per year) and 74 percent is buried directly underground without any sorting, (163,765 tonnes per year).

In 2015, Corsica’s biggest dumpsite in Tallone (Haute-Corse) was closed after a vertical extension of the landfill was refused.

In March 2017, another site in Vico in the south, which took 30,000 tonnes per year was also closed, having reached its threshold capacity of 115,000 tonnes (an extension project was also blocked).

According to Simeoni, Corsicans have inherited 20 years “of mismanagement and little choice, which have been detrimental to the general public interest and benefited instead private sources.”

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‘Red lights’ as over-tourism threatens Corsican nature reserve

"It's nature's magical design," says a tourist guide, waxing poetic as he comments on the impressive red cliffs plunging into a turquoise sea at the Scandola nature reserve on France's Corsica island.

'Red lights' as over-tourism threatens Corsican nature reserve
A fisherman sails at sunrise off Ajaccio, Corsica. Photo: AFP

“Amazing!” exclaims Irena Snydrova, a Czech tourist visiting the UNESCO World Heritage site with her family, along with groups from Italy, Spain and France.

Their boat sidles up to the Steps of Paradise, rocks shaped into a stairway some 15 metres long, then glides on to Bad Luck Pass, a former pirates' redoubt.

The ages have sculpted the volcanic cliffs into myriad shapes that beguile the visitor, who might imagine a kissing couple here, a horse's head there, Napoleon's two-cornered hat further on…

The park, created in 1975, is an ecological dream, being a nature reserve and a protected marine zone that is listed by France's coastal protection agency and Natura 2000, in addition to its recognition by UNESCO.

It is a prime destination for the some three million people who visit Corsica each year, 75 percent of them in the summer.

The paradox is that growing numbers of tourists are drawn to Scandola's pristine waters and stunning geological vistas, endangering its fragile ecosystem.

The park, reached only by boat some 40 minutes from the tiny port of Porto,
stretches over 10 square kilometres of sea, and a somewhat smaller area of land.

“The reserve is a jewel for Corsica and the Mediterranean, but several red lights are flashing,” says marine biologist Charles-Francois Boudouresque, listing flora and fauna at risk, including ospreys, seagrass and fish species such as the brown meagre.

The tourist season coincides with the ospreys' mating season, notes Boudouresque, an emeritus professor at the Mediterranean Institute of Oceanography.

Because of over-tourism, ospreys' “reproductive success is zero or near zero, with either no chicks or just one chick” per year, he says.

Boudouresque, who also heads Scandola's scientific advisory council, says the osprey could become extinct in 50 years.

Since last month, at the urging of the scientific council, boats must keep a distance of at least 250 metres from ospreys' nests during the breeding season.

“It's a good start,” Boudouresque says.

As for the marine park's fish species, Boudouresque says he thinks the thrumming of the tourist boats is scaring them away.

But a crew member, who gave his name only as Diego, blamed groupers for the declining population of corb. “They eat everything,” he told AFP.

Tensions have arisen pitting tour boat operators and fishermen against the reserve's conservationist Jean-Marie Dominici.

Boudouresque says the seagrass “is not in the best shape,” blaming the anchors dropped by the many boats — some of them private vessels without authorised guides.

“It's bizarre for a nature reserve to see all these boats,” said Pierre Gilibert, a 65-year-old doctor, who is a regular visitor. “It might be wise to allow access only to professional boats.”

Many share the opinion that private boats are not sufficiently monitored or informed of ecological concerns.

“This morning we saw people climbing on the rocks and berthing their boats in narrow passageways, which is not allowed,” said Gabriel Pelcot, chief mechanic on a cruise ship of the Corsican company Nave Va.

Nave Va, as well as rival Via Mare, uses hybrid vessels: they are powered by diesel up to the edge of the marine park, then switch to electric for a quieter and less polluting presence.

Pelcot notes that this green option is 30 percent more expensive, but he expects it to catch on.

“We must find a compromise between the need for tourists to enjoy this natural treasure and that of not killing the goose that laid the golden egg,” Boudouresque says.

The marine biologist is optimistic that general awareness of the problems is growing.

He envisions ways to marry tourism with preservation. One example, he says, would be to focus cameras on ospreys' nests so that they can be observed without being disturbed.

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