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ENVIRONMENT

Drink from fountains not plastic bottles, Venice tells visitors

Plenty of water is essential if you’re visiting Italy’s sights during summer. But Venice has urged visitors to ditch the plastic bottles and stressed that the floating city’s tap water is perfectly safe to drink.

Drink from fountains not plastic bottles, Venice tells visitors
A visitor fills his water bottle from a fountain at the Flora hotel in Venice. Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP

In Venice, which welcomes millions of visitors each year, tourism is responsible for between 28 and 40 percent of garbage production depending on the season, according to local government data – including piles and piles of plastic water bottles.

To combat the waste, local authorities are promoting the use of refillable water bottles by calling tourists’ attention to the vast network of drinking water fountains dotting the squares and alleys of the floating city.

READ ALSO: Italy’s plastic tax postponed again under budget plans

“In the historic centre, there are 126 fountains spread over the area, they’re easy to find, there’s one nearly every 100 metres (330 feet),” said architect Alberto Chinellato in his city hall office overlooking the Rialto Bridge.

To make things even easier, water distribution company Veritas has launched an app and website showing a map with all the nearest fountains. 

“Encouraging the use of free drinking water certainly produces less waste… but also brings fewer bottles in the historic centre, which means less pollution and less transport”, said Chinellato.

Leaving Chinellato’s office, AFP observed an empty plastic water bottle bobbing between two gondolas on the Grand Canal – underscoring that the battle against plastic is far from being won.

At the centrally located Hotel Flora, owner Gioele Romanelli has also decided to contribute to the crusade against plastic by educating his guests.

READ ALSO: What is it with Italians and bottled water?

“We simply had a card printed on which we pointed out the fountains of Venice with a little blue drop,” said Romanelli, proudly displaying a copy on a small bistro table.

“Not only with a refillable bottle, but also by recycling a small (plastic) water bottle you can keep all day,” said the 49-year-old hotelier.

At check-in, guests are briefed about Venice’s “good water”.

“They are sometimes surprised to learn that the water in Venice is drinkable,” he said.

“With this small gesture, our customers can actively participate in the battle against plastic,” he said, seeing it as a way, in a city with “an insane number of tourists”, to give them a certain sense of responsibility.

In addition to the card marking the city’s fountains, the hotel has done away with single-dose shampoo and shower gel bottles in the rooms in favour of refillable dispensers.

At breakfast, plastic is a thing of the past, with the hotel now using small glass containers for muesli, dried fruit and yogurt, Romanelli said.

READ ALSO: How will the tourist-control system work in Venice?

Venice is quickly recovering its tourist traffic following the coronavirus pandemic. But after reaching a total of 5.5 million visitors in 2019 – eclipsing the city centre’s 50,000 inhabitants – officials are trying to limit arrivals.

From January, day visitors will pay a tax that they’ve been able to avoid until now by not staying overnight.

The ‘tourist tax’ will be charged at between 3-10 euros (around $3-$10) depending on the time of year, and will be payable online.

It will provide visitors with a QR code to be shown at the various entry points to the historic centre.

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TRANSPORT

OPINION: Why are Italians so addicted to cars?

In a country as attached to the car as Italy, what would it take to get more people to use greener transport? Silvia Marchetti looks at what’s behind the country’s high levels of car ownership.

OPINION: Why are Italians so addicted to cars?

Many foreigners I speak to are shocked by the ‘car first’ mentality that rules in Italy, and by Italians’ degree of addiction to any wheeled vehicle. 

There’s practically one car around for each Italian. Between 2010-2020 the population dropped but there were three million more cars on the roads, despite soaring living costs and falling salaries. 

Italy’s rate of car ownership is the second-highest in Europe after tiny Luxembourg. All Italian regions have a lot of cars running but surprisingly, the number of passenger cars which is the highest at EU level can be found in the Alpine regions of Valle D’Aosta and the northern autonomous province of Trento, where particular regional statutes envisage special tax incentives helping locals to buy new cars.

Most Italians just don’t like walking. They aren’t active travelers who’d opt for a bike, and can’t go even 500 meters without a wheeled vehicle, be it a Jeep, motorbike, Vespa or motorino. 

But it’s not really their fault. People in Italy haven’t been educated on eco-friendly modes of transport, simply because infrastructure like bike lanes, pedestrian paths, high-speed trains, efficient trams, subways and buses are rather lacking. And there aren’t many walkable pavements in cities, let alone in old villages. So the car is Italians’ second home. 

READ ALSO: These are the most (and least) eco-friendly towns in Italy

There’s an historical reason for this, too. After the second world war, during the economic boom when Italy finally rose from the ashes of the defeat, owning a cinquecento or maggiolino was a status symbol. In the 1960s my father would squeeze eight friends into his cinquino and drive around all night, sharing the fuel cost. Then the car fad turned into a frenzy, and now it’s an obsession.

Iconic Italian car and motorbike models fuelled a post-war fad – which has become an obsession. (Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP)

Whenever I need to go somewhere far from my house I wish I could do the entire trip by public transport and ditch my car, so as to avoid having parking problems too. I remember once when I was at university there was this huge party near the Colosseum, I drove around for an hour looking for a parking spot and eventually I gave up, went back home really frustrated. 

Car sharing also is something totally foreign to Italians. You just need to look around in the morning at rush hour to see that there’s just one person per car, which is totally unsustainable climate-wise.

READ ALSO: Rome ‘among worst cities in Europe’ for road safety, traffic and pollution

Even in areas like Milan, where public transport is more efficient than in the southern regions, people still stick to their car or motorino which just proves how it’s a matter of mentality rather than of transport provision. 

On the other hand, if I want to visit Tuscany or Umbria from my house in Rome’s northern countryside, there aren’t even any direct connections.

My Italian millennial friends refuse to take a bus or tram to the gelateria a few blocks away from their home – the car is the rule, and they don’t care if they risk a fine for double parking, or parking in front of a building entrance. Forget walking, it just isn’t ‘done’.

Italy will soon invest some €600 million in projects aimed at improving bike and pedestrian lanes under initiatives funded by the PNRR, but the mindset of drivers must also modernize for all this money to be really effective. 

OPINION: Why cycling in Rome isn’t as crazy as it sounds

Italy needs an information campaign to raise awareness of environmental and health issues, and this must start inside schools and continue in college. Families also should educate kids to healthier transport modes, and stop buying those ‘micro cars’ when they’re 13 which don’t require a driver’s license. 

I often ask myself what it would take to get Italians – but also other nationalities – out of their cars, or off their noisy motorino with illegal upgrades that make a hell of a noise. Rising oil prices haven’t done the miracle in making car ownership unaffordable. 

Hiking car prices would kill the industry, so the only way is to give tax breaks or incentives to families who keep just one car and manage to share it, or raise taxes if each family member has one. 

Perhaps in a very remote future, interconnected green transport from the doorstep to the destination might be the solution, but at the moment that’s science fiction.

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