Venice Sinking Under Weight of 13 Million Plastic Bottles

The Problem with Bottled Water
Bottled water is a worldwide environmental problem. The plastic water bottles consume large amounts of oil in their manufacture, may leach chemicals into the water they contain, and do not biodegrade for hundreds of years.

These Plastic Bottles Floating at Sea Will Take Hundreds of Years to Biodegrade

Re-used bottles can leach even more chemicals into any water or other liquid you put into them. Bottled water may simply be filtered tap water, or of inferior quality to tap water. The bottles are ‘disposed of’ in increasingly scarce landfill sites, or clog up the sea, breaking into smaller and more dangerous particles but still not biodegrading. Some 85% are never recycled. Last year scientists confirmed that there are millions of tons of plastic floating around the Pacific Ocean in an area known as the North Pacific Gyre, a slow moving vortex. Four major currents have carried millions of tons of rubbish into the remote area, with the mostly plastic refuse now covering an area estimated to be larger than Texas. Moreover, water is heavy and the transportation of bottled water is an energy intensive activity.

20 Million Tourits = 13 Million Plastic Bottles
Over 20 million tourists visit Venice every year, drinking an estimated 13 million bottles of water, in addition to those consumed by the 60,000 inhabitants. No wonder Venice is sinking. Tourists tend to be suspicious of tap water and the public water fountains in Venice are unmarked, and appear old and corroded. No surprise that the sight of tourists clutching plastic bottles is ubiquitous. In fact, tap water in Italy is strictly controlled and Venetian water comes from the same sources as some bottled waters.

Unmarked and Corroded Water Fountain in Venice

As well as massive environmental impact, the disposal of all those plastic bottles is a huge cost to the local economy. Waste disposal costs around $335 per ton in Venice compared with $84 per ton on the mainland.

How Other Regions in Italy Are Tackling the Problem
And yet there is much that can be done to change this. The Italian region of Cinque Terre is an area of World Heritage coast, which lies south of Genoa in the province of Liguria. Some 3 million tourists visit the area every year discarding two million plastic bottles, some of which tumble down the cliffs and end up littering local beaches and polluting the sea.

Under a new initiative, tourists entering the national park which encloses the region will be encouraged to buy one litre reusable flasks, stamped with the park’s logo. Automated water fountains offering chilled, fizzy and still water will be installed in the coming months so they can replenish their water supply as they hike the nine mile long coastline.

Franco Bonanini, the president of the Cinque Terre national park, said the ban was being introduced because the area was being “buried” in plastic. “With so many visitors, the footpaths and villages of the Cinque Terre are at risk of being transformed into a great big open air dustbin. We are going to update the existing water fountains and install new ones: they will provide people with still or sparkling filtrated water. By the start of next Spring, we hope to have liberated ourselves from this nightmare,” said Mr Bonanini. “If the Cinque Terre is reduced to a rubbish dump in five years’ time, they will suffer the consequences. This is a sacrifice that will benefit shopkeepers and everyone else. To the three million tourists who come here every year, we ask them for a little bit of understanding, in order to save this paradise for the future.”

In Florence too, action has been taken but mainly for residents rather than the millions of tourists that descend on the city each year. “Fontanelli” have been installed around the city that dispense cooled water and at one even sparkling water. In 2009, 6 million litres of water were distributed from these fountains in and around Florence, saving families over a million Euros in cost, and avoiding 15.000 kilograms of plastic, or 1.5 million bottles, from being introduced into the environment. These water fountains all lie outside the Florence ring road, hence their limited impact on tourists. But it’s still a great step in the right direction.

Fountains are Unused Even in Popular Locations

Three years ago Venice created Veritas, a municipal umbrella company that is responsible both for city water and for rubbish collection in the region. Officials of the new company realized that by promoting the former, they could reduce the latter and rubbish collection costs. A campaign in Italian run by the last Mayor was aimed at the 60,000 inhabitants. Venetian officials claim some success for the scheme with the amount of plastic refuse down to 261 tons a month now from 288 tons a year ago. But with tourists outnumbering residents by a factor of over 300 the real impact will only happen when the campaign is rolled out to tourists in languages other than Italian. Shopkeepers may not like it losing sales of bottled water but they can be rewarded through a generous cut of sales of a recyclable flask.

The Main Issues in Venice are:

•No publicity about the public water fountains in any language

•Absolutely no labelling on the fountains saying ‘drinking water’

•Water fountains that are old and corroded and do not appear attractive and are therefore hardly used

•Fountains that run continuously adding to the impression that this is not quality drinking water and adding to waste

The Time for Tap Campaign says let’s stop this crazy environmental destruction now. Our clear pragmatic objectives can easily be implemented in stages:

A publicity campaign aimed at tourists i.e in English and other common languages alerting them to the public water fountains, their location and the fact they dispense excellent quality drinking water

• The provision of more public fountains

• The replacement of old fountains, with ones that dispense water with valve operation

• The provision of recyclable flasks as in the Cinque Terre initiative

• To work towards a ban on the use of plastic bottles on the all the Venice islands

To join the Time for Tap Campaign click here

For more news, features and information on Venice visit

  1. October 6, 2010 at 8:50 pm

    Sounds like a great idea! :)

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