Tidal wave of litter risks choking Venice

Venice. The historic city goes by many names: it's the “city of bridges”, “the city of masks” and “the city of canals”. But perhaps a more fitting name would be “the city of rubbish”.

Tidal wave of litter risks choking Venice
Venice wecomes 50,000 tourists a day. Photo: Andreas Solaro

On Monday a project called Don't Waste Venice started its ambitious attempts to monitor and improve the quality of Venice's waterways. What they found only underscored the degradation of the city's famous canals.

The team navigated 7km of the canals by boat, but it was far from a romantic gondola ride. The project fished out a whopping 500 pieces of floating litter from the waters: that's one piece every 13 meters.

The survey was carried out with the help of the Italian Environmental League and an EU project that seeks to rid the Adriatic coast of abandoned fishing gear.

Luigi Lazzaro, President of the Venetian Enviromental League told that he wasn't surprised by what had been found. “Marine litter is an underrated problem for a city like Venice, whose relationship with the water is emblematic,” he said.

Finds from the short boat trip included discarded cans, bottles, cigarette buts and floating plastic bags. According to the results of the survey, an estimated 87 percent of the junk clogging up the waters of Venice is non-biodegradable plastic.

The project's aim is clear – monitor the litter situation and improve it by promoting good practices among the residents of Venice and the 50,000 tourists who pass through the city every day.

The old adage “take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints” is not just something that applies to visits to the countryside; it applies to our cities too.

But it is not just the responsibility of holidaymakers.

“Obviously the local government needs to finally face up to the problem of waste management and collection and propose innovative solutions,” Lazzaro said.

Current EU coast and marine policy targets want all member states to have waters with “good environmental status” by 2020 – so Venice has just five years to clean up its act. 

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Italy to pay €57m compensation over Venice cruise ship ban

The Italian government announced on Friday it would pay 57.5 million euros in compensation to cruise companies affected by the decision to ban large ships from Venice's fragile lagoon.

A cruise ship in St Mark's Basin, Venice.
The decision to limit cruise ship access to the Venice lagoon has come at a cost. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

The new rules, which took effect in August, followed years of warnings that the giant floating hotels risked causing irreparable damage to the lagoon city, a UNESCO world heritage site.

READ ALSO: Venice bans large cruise ships from centre after Unesco threat of ‘endangered’ status

Some 30 million euros has been allocated for 2021 for shipping companies who incurred costs in “rescheduling routes and refunding passengers who cancelled trips”, the infrastructure ministry said in a statement.

A further 27.5 million euros – five million this year and the rest in 2022 – was allocated for the terminal operator and related companies, it said.

The decision to ban large cruise ships from the centre of Venice in July came just days before a meeting of the UN’s cultural organisation Unesco, which had proposed adding Venice to a list of endangered heritage sites over inaction on cruise ships.

READ ALSO: Is Venice really banning cruise ships from its lagoon?

Under the government’s plan, cruise ships will not be banned from Venice altogether but the biggest vessels will no longer be able to pass through St Mark’s Basin, St Mark’s Canal or the Giudecca Canal. Instead, they’ll be diverted to the industrial port at Marghera.

But critics of the plan point out that Marghera – which is on the mainland, as opposed to the passenger terminal located in the islands – is still within the Venice lagoon.

Some aspects of the plan remain unclear, as infrastructure at Marghera is still being built. Meanwhile, smaller cruise liners are still allowed through St Mark’s and the Giudecca canals.

Cruise ships provide a huge economic boost to Venice, but activists and residents say the ships contribute to problems caused by ‘overtourism’ and cause large waves that undermine the city’s foundations and harm the fragile ecosystem of its lagoon.