Rome Won’t Get Clean in a Day: Clever Campaign Asks People to Pick Up Trash

Actor Alessandro Gassmann’s ‘Romasonoio’ effort has residents of the Italian capital taking to the streets to sweep garbage.

(Photo: Twitter)

Jul 30, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

Friends, Romans, countrymen: It appears Julius Caesar himself would be totally ashamed of the amount of garbage on the streets of Italy’s capital.

At least, it seems that way, thanks to “Romasonoio” (I am Rome), a social media–based initiative launched by popular Italian actor Alessandro Gassmann. His viral campaign is asking locals to pick up all the plastic bottles, containers, food packaging, broken furniture, and other trash that’s been littering the streets of the metropolis.

On Sunday afternoon, Gassmann tweeted a “proposal to Romans who love their city” to his more than 131,000 Twitter followers. In it, he suggested that city residents should “arm ourselves with broom, wallet, and bag for the trash, and each clean up their own little corner of the city,” reported Roma Today. The actor’s call to civic duty was shared more than 1,300 times, and since then people have been tweeting pictures of themselves cleaning up the garbage that lines the streets, using the hashtag #Romasonoio.

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Gassmann’s activism was applauded on Twitter by the mayor of Rome, Ignazio Marino. Marino is under intense pressure to resign thanks to the bureaucratic quagmire the city finds itself in.

The disintegration of city services in Rome—including alleged Mafia involvement in the sanitation department—is so out of control that last week the international edition of The New York Times ran an embarrassing front-page story detailing the government dysfunction and corruption. The photos accompanying the piece revealed a decaying and filthy-looking city.

Adding insult to injury, the French newspaper Le Monde blamed Romans for the trashy situation and detailed how in Rome, taking pictures of heaps of garbage has become a new photography genre.

Sure, the litter lining the streets is unsightly, and it smells terrible, but that’s not even the biggest problem. When it rains, much of the loose refuse—think plastic packaging, tossed-on-the-ground yogurt cups, cigarette butts, and bottle caps—gets washed into the Tiber River. In 2013 the river was deemed so polluted that cruises on it were suspended. Eventually, all the garbage in the Tiber travels to the western coast of Italy, where it makes its way into the Tyrrhenian Sea and the rest of the Mediterranean Sea region, where it is ingested by marine life and other animals.

Some people have compared Gassmann, who is also a U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees goodwill ambassador, to President John F. Kennedy. Gassmann is someone who is reminding people, “Dont ask what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country,” as journalist Michele Sciancalepore put it.

Meanwhile, critics believe the real problem isn’t corruption in Rome’s government or the litterbug habits of locals. Writer Alberto Ansa Rosa suggested that the real issue facing the Italian capital is the hordes of “half-naked” American tourists that descend on the Colosseum and the Trevi Fountain, wearing flip-flops, eating their food while slouched over, and leaving mountains of trash behind. Alrighty then. Take that, New York Times.