Garbage pickup day in Venice is something of a minor tourist entertainment. A friend sent a report to me last year, complete with pictures. The system is ingenious on a small scale: residents set their garbage in the streets, neatly bagged, in expectation of the arrival of the garbage barge. A garbage collector gathers all the bags into a little wire cage on wheels and trundles it under the arm that swings out from the barge. The barge operator grabs the cage, hoists it aloft, and then opens the bottom, so all the bags tumble into the hold. That’s the end of the known fate of Venetian garbage.
Like garbage everywhere, garbage in Venice goes “poof” on collection day. When you search on the Internet, you find plenty of pictures posted by tourists–oh look! how cute!–but nothing about what happens next.
I did find out that Venice doesn’t treat its sewage, flushing everything straight into the lagoon. I have to confess that I didn’t like Venice very much to start with. It’s a fabulous place in theory, but in practice there are too many tourists, both in absolute and relative numbers, turning the whole thing into a kind of Disney confection grafted onto an astounding historical reality. Anyhow, this little fact about the sewage just lifted the experience to a different order of unpleasantness. No wonder the residents are leaving.
On the ferry to Burano, I did have a minor revelation, spotting something that looked an awful lot like landfill to my knowing eye. More searching on the Internet shows that I saw the Sacca San Mattia landfill, which is supposed to accept only inert waste (such as demolition debris). “Supposed to” has a special ring in Italy, as witness the situation in Naples, but it nevertheless suggests that household trash goes somewhere else–at least officially.
So the riddle remains unsolved and I commend myself to those privileged few who know what happens to Venice’s garbage.