A few steps from St. Mark’s Square in Venice, a little girl fills her water bottle from a fountain in the courtyard, an oasis of calm away from the tourist crowds.
“Plastic bottles really annoy me,” said 11-year-old Keira from Tucson, Arizona. “There’s so much plastic in the ocean and everywhere.”
Her father Charlie Michieli also believes in exchanging plastic for reusable bottles: “You can go through a lot, especially on a long journey … liters and liters and liters of plastic bottles.”
In Venice, which welcomes millions of visitors each year, tourism contributes between 28 and 40 percent of waste production — including piles and piles of plastic water bottles — depending on the time of year, according to local government figures.
To combat waste, local authorities are now promoting the use of refillable water bottles, drawing tourists’ attention to the vast network of drinking water fountains that dot the water town’s squares and alleys.
“In the historic center there are 126 fountains scattered throughout the area, they are easy to find, there is one almost every 100 meters (330 feet),” said architect Alberto Chinellato in his town hall office overlooking the Rialto Bridge.
To make it even easier, water utility Veritas has launched an app that shows a map of all the nearest wells.
“Promoting the use of free drinking water certainly creates less waste … but it also brings fewer bottles to the old town, which means less pollution and less transportation,” Chinellato said.
Leaving Chinellato’s office, AFP saw an empty plastic water bottle bouncing between two gondolas on the Grand Canal – underscoring that the fight against plastic is far from over.
– Small blue drop –
In the centrally located Hotel Flora, owner Gioele Romanelli has also decided to contribute to the crusade against plastic by educating his guests.
“We simply had a card printed, on which we point out the fountains of Venice with a small blue drop,” says Romanelli, proudly presenting a copy on a small bistro table.
“Not only with a refillable bottle, but also by recycling a small (plastic) water bottle that you can keep all day,” says the 49-year-old hotelier.
Upon check-in, guests are informed about Venice’s “good water”.
“Sometimes they are surprised to learn that the water in Venice is drinkable,” he said.
“With this small gesture, our customers can actively participate in the fight against plastic,” he said, seeing it as an opportunity to give them a certain sense of responsibility in a city with “an insane amount of tourists”.
In addition to the city fountain card, the hotel has dropped single-dose shampoo and shower gel bottles in the rooms in favor of refillable dispensers.
At breakfast, plastic is a thing of the past as the hotel now uses small glass containers for cereal, dried fruit and yogurt, Romanelli said.
Venice is quickly recovering its tourist traffic after the coronavirus pandemic which has robbed it of its economic lifeline.
But after reaching a total of 5.5 million visitors in 2019 – dwarfing the city center’s 50,000 residents – officials are trying to limit arrivals.
From January, day visitors will pay a levy that they have previously been able to avoid by not staying overnight.
The tax, which ranges from 3 to 10 euros (about $3 to $10) depending on the number of crowds, is paid online on a dedicated website.
It will provide visitors with a QR code needed for entry at the various entrances to the historic center.
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