The expression Ecomafia is meant to define a systemic variety of illicit practices, actions, and socio-economic activities that endangers the health of a community and its environment. It is strongly associated with the hidden interests and profitable industries that organized crime syndicates have managed (or still are) on a specific territory through their influence and corruption of municipalities and the increasing black economy (for money laundering and tax evasion). The most common areas where Ecomafia practices are penetrating with a lasting effect are abusive and unauthorized building (illegal cementation of land), animal racketeering, landscape destruction and toxicity, and the cycle of trash disposal. Similarly, recent reports conducted by environmental agencies and Italian NGOs has also tracked environmental crimes (ecoreati) in the agricultural systems, production, and distribution of foods, industrial pollution, human-made fires as well as the power of archeomafia groups in the stealing of artworks.

The term Ecomafia was coined and used for the first time in 1994 in a report ‘Le ecomafia – il ruolo della criminalità organizzata nell’illegalità ambientale’ [‘Ecomafie: the role of organized crime in environmental illegal activities] conducted by the Research Institute of the Italians, namely Eurispes, the National Italian gendarmerie, and the historic Italian environmental NGO, Legambiente, an association founded by activists, journalists, and scientists, that started its campaigns in 1980 on the edge of the antinuclear protests and first organized green social movements across Italy and Europe. Prior and during the official use of such concept, this neologism in early 2000s allowed Italian law enforcement and EU police to coordinate a strong crackdown on organized crime syndicates that were operating in the areas of environmental practices and illegal dumping.

Both the Neapolitan Camorra syndicates, originated around the Campania region, and the ‘Ndrangheta groups whose innerworkings affected the Calabrian landscape and Northern cities, have been the target of criminal investigations, arrests, and convictions. Several activities around the Italian peninsula but also abroad especially in the recycling of waste and disposal of toxic and radioactive materials still are one of the major objectives of Ecomafia organizations. The public attention to the health crisis and the scandal of burning trash in major city streets (especially Naples and Rome) also prompted a broader awareness of how corporate and industrial activities intersect larger and profound discourses on the biological, social, political, and economic wellbeing of a community and its citizens.

Ecomafia and ecoreati put into question the integration between the social and ethical fabric on which citizenry is founded and what type of economic system a society adopts for profit. One of the most successful literary pieces on the existential grab of Ecomafia successes on its territory is the novel Gomorrah (originally published in Italian in 2006, also titled A personal Journey into the violent international empire of Naples’ organized crime system) written by the Neapolitan journalist and author, Roberto Saviano, who has unveiled the innerworkings of the Camorra system in marking the visibility of their illegal trades, dumping, and much more. Waste crisis, lack of recycling coordination and supervision, and the deep examination of the role of these organized crimes on the public scenes are still in the spotlight while sustainability practices and programs are underway across the globe, and primarily in the EU policies on ecological transitions and a larger worldwide awareness on climate issues.

Further reading

Calabria E., D’Ambrosio A., Ruggiero, P. Ivana. Directors. Biutiful Cauntri [Beautiful Country], Lumiere & co. 2008. Documentary. 

Iovino, S., Cesaretti, E., and Past, E., editors. Italy and the Environmental Humanities. Natures, Ecologies and Landscapes. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2018.

Iovino, Serenella. Ecocriticism and Italy. Ecology, Resistance, and Liberation. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2016.

Legambiente, Report on Ecomafie 2022

Nixon, Rob. Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 2011.

Past, Elena. “Trash is Gold”: Documenting the Ecomafia and Campania’s Waste Crisis.” ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and the Environment 20.3 (2013): 597-621

Saviano, Roberto. Gomorrah. A personal Journey into the violent international empire of Naples’ organized crime system. New York, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux edition, 2007.

Seger, Monica. Toxic Matters. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2022.

Giuliano Migliori

Giuliano Migliori Ph.D. is a Senior Italian Lecturer at The Ohio State University where he has taught several courses on Italian literature and cinema, Italian-American crime fiction, and Environmental Humanities. His main research focuses on phenomenology and identity forms, embodied literature, corporeal studies, ecocriticism, and affect theories.

His works have been featured in L’Avventura. International Journal of Italian Film and Media Landscapes, in the volume Scrivere l’orrore on the Holocaust, and in Basilicata and Southern Italy between Film and Ecologies on the reframing of Italian eco-South. His short stories have appeared on the bilingual magazine, Agua del Pozo/Waters of the well.

More from this author