John Thackara | Essays

Has Venice Cracked the Bottled Water Conundrum?

Italians are the leading consumers of bottled water in the world. They drink more than 40 gallons per person annually. Among many ecocidal by-products, until recently, discarded plastic bottles littered canals all over Venice, a world heritage site.

Appeals to civic duty came to naught. Exhortation and public education proved ineffective in persuading people to use tap water to reduce plastic waste. Then city oficials had a brainwave: as reported here by The New York Times, they created a brand name for Venice’s tap water — Acqua Veritas — and distributed free branded carafes to city households.

Tap water is often referred to as “the mayor’s water” in Italy — so an early ad featured Venice’s then mayor, philosopher Massimo Cacciari, stating that “I, too, drink the mayor’s water" as he pours a glass.

Recently, by distributing discounted water carbonators, Venice enabled the The Mayor's Water to be sparkling, too. I can vouch that the sparkling variety is delicious: my source for this story, Venetian residents Philip Tabor and Gillian Crampton Smith, served me a carafe just this past weekend.

(Modesty prevents me from claiming “all” the credit for this sublime scheme — but it cannot be denied that Venice's fizzy water campaign dates almost to the day to the publication in Italian of In the Bubble.)

Another startling innovation from Venice is Shiro Alga Carta. As I learned at last weekend's fabulous sustainability festival in Treviso, this paper is made from algae which would otherwise clog up the Venetian Lagoon. The algae, which are harvested annually, are used in partial substitution of pulp and are combined with FSC fibres.

Other aspects of green-ness in Italy are more — er — problematic. The latest cover of Corriera della Sera's weekend magazine, for example, is followed by pages of 'green' gadgets to buy for Christmas:

In Treviso, festival goers were too busy chatting in the streets to be distracted by Corriera's witless cover:

And here are my new best friends from Treviso:


Posted in: Arts + Culture, Social Good

Comments [1]

Unfortunately the Venice authorities chose the wrong target for their water campaign. The impact of a campaign in Italian only and aimed at the 59,635 inhabitants of Venice is negligible. The real target needs to be the 13 million plastic bottles left behind by 20 million tourists every year. As our Website documents on http://wp.me/p1eFQR-6S there are some very easy measures that can be taken to make a difference and solve this problem.

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