Many things don’t function properly here, as in quite a few other places in Italy. One of them is the garbage collection/recycling service.
All too often arriving on the outskirts of town you are greeted by an unsightly mess of communal rubbish bins spilling their contents out over the sides. Many are the explanations to this disservice. Garbage collectors on strike (no money in the Municipal coffers to pay them) or mysterious problems between local authorities and shady characters who operate the land fills. Probably better not to go down that road here.
Instead, in the town of Castelbuono in the foothills of the Madonie range of mountains, they have come up with a novel way of cutting down on costs and regularly collecting and recycling refuse from the town centre.
Until not long ago donkeys were an integral part of life in Sicilian villages. They were used for transportation into the countryside and were stabled on the ground floor of the houses where they acted as a natural central heating system. Their body heat rose up through the house heating the next floor which was usually the sleeping area. Then because of new health and safety regulations it was forbidden to keep donkeys stabled in the town centre and they had to be put out to grass.
In 2006 the mayor of the town, extremely sensitive to ecological issues, decided to bring one of the retired donkeys back into active service and experimented by strapping panniers to its haunches and taking it round the narrow streets of the old town picking up the garbage bags. After some initial perplexity the idea was accepted and the pilot scheme went ahead.
Since then Valentina, Cosima, Concetta and Teresa have been clip clopping through town doing their job, keeping it clean and saving the Municipal office around €7000 a year on overheads: no more petrol, insurance, road tax or vehicle maintenance and no pollution.
Each collector is responsible for the well-being and personal care of the animal and everyone now appreciates the donkey’s worth as the hard working, intelligent animal that it always has been.