04 June, 2006

12. Collecting the garbage: Part 1

This is the front end of a City of Venice Municipal Waste Collection Unit – or whatever fancy name the Venetian garbologists like to give it. It is a hand-pushed, human-powered aluminium trolley with two small wheels sticking out in front, and two larger ones just forward of a halfway balance point.

There are a lot of these in Venice, because a city that hosts 14 million visitors a year creates a lot of garbage, and there are no motorized vehicles of any kind going from door to door picking up and emptying bins. Even if there were, they wouldn't get very far, because wherever you turn in Venice you are facing a pedestrians-only stepped footbridge.

Which is why the design of these garbage trolleys is so ingenious. The two sets of wheels are just the right distance apart to allow the pusher of this barrow to rock it back and forth and simply 'walk' it up and over a bridge with only a little more effort than it takes to push the thing on straight level ground.

On 'garbage day', residents leave tied up plastic bags of rubbish outside their front door on the footpath, and the collectors simply pick them up and throw them in the trolley as they trundle past. The system may be unlike that of any other city in the world but it is designed around Venice's unique environment and it works.

It may look a little untidy to see bags of garbage in some of the streets for a few hours each morning, but that has to be better than having thousands of bins cluttering up the narrow passageways between the buildings, which is where apartment-dwellers with no back or front yards would have to leave them all week.

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