Donkeys set a new pace in Italy

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The Sicilian town of Castelbuono has stopped using garbage trucks to collect the trash and recycling ? and started using DONKEYS instead. Reporter Naomi Fowler visited the town to find out why.

MARCO WERMAN: A town in Sicily has come up with a novel solution to its trash problem. This is a country where rounding up the garbage is very often expensive thanks to government inefficiency and organized crime. Remember, for example, the piles of uncollected rubbish in Naples? Anyway the small Sicilian town of Castelbuono came up with a unique idea. It stopped using garbage trucks to collect the trash and recycling and started using donkeys instead. Naomi Fowler visited the town to find out why.

NAOMI FOWLER: The local town council in Castelbuono figures that using donkeys instead of garbage trucks makes both environmental and financial sense. Donkeys don't pollute the way trucks do, and they're cheaper. Sixteen hundred dollars per donkey versus $40,000 per truck. And the donkeys are cheaper to maintain too. So that's why every day from 7:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. Castelbuono's streets are full of a work force it hasn't seen for 100 years. Vincenzo Mazolo runs the program. He says the donkeys are popular with the townspeople now, but at first some didn't like it. They thought the town was going backwards. But he thinks they've hit on a great idea here and now everyone can see it. And this donkey has come to say hello. Vincenzo introduces me to two of the program's donkeys. They're females like all the other working animals and they wear special boxes on their backs to collect different kinds of recycled rubbish. This was all Mario Cicero's idea. He's the mayor of Castelbuono.

INTERPRETER: Donkeys are sweet and calm, more than humans even. We're showing the world that an essential service like garbage collection can be done successfully using a very old resource like the donkey. That's something out of our past from the time of our fathers and grandfathers. It's our tradition, we should be proud of it. Today we have 30 donkeys and they work in shifts. When the females get pregnant, they even have maternity leave so our program complies with union rules.

FOWLER: This refuse worker prefers the donkeys to the big garbage truck he used to ride before. He says it's more relaxing. Unfortunately, few Sicilians enjoy a service as good as this one. Garbage collection is a big problem in Sicily. The money to pay for public services often disappears and the trash piles high in the streets because there's nothing left to pay the refuse workers. And that's not the only problem. Much of the garbage the towns here do actually separate and recycle ends up all together in the same place anyway, a dump near Palermo. Castelbuono's program doesn't tackle bigger problems like that, but it has attracted national and international attention.

STEFANIA GIAMBELLUCA: I think we should not wait for a good example from Rome. We should start, the local community should start.

FOWLER: Stefania Giambelluca is from the Centre of European Studies and Initiatives. She's come to see the donkey scheme for herself.

GIAMBELLUCA: I would say I have to propose this also in my village.

FOWLER: And she's not the only visitor staring at the donkeys here. A local councilor from Palermo and a visitor from Thailand also came here today to take a look. So this local initiative may yet spread to other places around the globe. For The World, this is Naomi Fowler in Castelbuono, Sicily.