As tides rise, flooded Venice awash with colourful plastic boots

Venice (AFP) –


After a high tide swept through Venice causing widespread devastation, plastic boots are everywhere. Offered in shades of neon orange, Barbie-doll pink and baby blue they are snatched up in droves by tourists anxious to avoid the universal annoyance of wet feet.

But the disposable boots, seen overflowing from rubbish bins this week as Venice was hit by record high waters, represent yet another environmental challenge for the city under siege, some say.

"This is the second pair I've bought in two days," said French tourist, Gregory, 36, who said he was dismayed to see the colourful boots bobbing in the city's swelling lagoon.

Sold for anywhere between 6-10 euros, the knee-high boots offer some immediate protection from the water, but tend to leak after prolonged use, tourists say. That means many are immediately discarded after a quick visit to flooded sites such as St Mark's Square, which on Thursday was submerged yet again after a record tide on Tuesday.

"It's really a shame they end up in the bin," said French tourist Manon Gaudre, 22. "It's a bit worrying... I'd think they should be pretty easy to recycle. I plan on keeping them, or at least not throw them away. Maybe I'll give them to someone arriving at the airport."

The made-in-China boots are made of recyclable plastic, and in theory can be recycled, the mayor's office told AFP. But, it cautioned, under the imminent state of emergency and with widespread damage from flooding to businesses and homes, Venice cannot keep up with its recycling.

The flimsy boots -- long on plastic but short on style -- visually differentiate the tourists from the locals, with the latter opting either for sturdier galoshes or waders stopping at the hip.

One seller, Valter Lucano, said the supply of boots was sufficient to accommodate the waves of people -- some in tour groups all kitted out in the same eye-popping colour -- gawking at the city under water.

Another, Stefano Gabbanoto, expressed concern at the environmental impact of the omnipresent footwear. "Sometimes I feel badly selling all this plastic, but what can I do?" Gabbanoto said.

A group of US tourists said they would likely keep the boots as a souvenir of their trip to the UNESCO city.

"I'm going to do yard work with them in the rain," said Helen May, from southern state Georgia.