Police Make Arrests After Discovering Mafia Recycling Ring

Italian police say they have made arrests following the discovery of an illegal recycling operation where mafia members were making shoes from toxic plastic, according to reports.

The BBC is writing that authorities took action after a lengthy investigation found that contaminated plastic was being sent from the Italian cities of Ragusa and Catania on the island of Sicily to China, where it was remanufactured into shoes, reshipped, and found for sale in Italian shops.

“Police say 15 people were held on a range of offences, including extortion and waste trafficking,” according to reports.

Those arrested included two businessmen and Claudio Carbonaro, head of the notorious Carbonaro-Dominante clan and an infamous member of the mafia implicated in as many as 60 murders. Police say that after taking control of the clan, Carbonaro looked to the lucrative market of trafficking contaminated plastics for refurbishing and resale in Europe, where brands could charge a premium for their products to be marketed as recycled.

This isn’t the first time the mafia has been involved in an illegal recycling scheme. As NPR writes, “we kind of owe recycling to the Mafia and a 1987 garbage barge that couldn’t dock anywhere. That’s when cities started sending trucks to everyone’s homes to pick up glass bottles and cardboard boxes.”

The story goes that Lowell Harrelson, a grass-roots entrepreneur noticed the hidden value in trash and recycling as fuel to generate electricity. In the 80s, Harrelson looked to New York City as a goldmine for trash, but the problem was that the city was largely under mafia control. So, Harrelson made the necessary connections in the Mafia, and in partnership, they ran a barge on the Hudson river called the Mobro 4000.

In March of 1987, 3,186 tonnes of trash hit the water, guided by Captain Duffy St. Pierre, but a court order stopped the barge from unloading its cargo in North Carolina. For four months, the barge was unable to dock and unload its cargo, meanwhile some noticed that landfills were overcrowded and the streets were becoming littered with trash- particularly in New York City.

Environmental economist at Bucknell University, Thomas Kinnaman says that this is “when the recycling era was born. That’s why we recycle to this day. Who knows where we’d be without that barge.”

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