Sewage & Waste Disposal | Hayward Baker

Sewage Waste Disposal

An outlet of a gatolo in Venice

Sewage disposal is the process in which sewage is transported through cities and inhabited areas to sewage treatment plants, where it is then treated to remove contaminants to produce environmentally-safe waste. Disposal of sewage waste protects public health and prevents disease as well as water pollution from sewage contaminants. Many modern cities have sewage disposal systems, and advancing technology has allowed for more environmentally friendly and healthy solutions to disposing and treating sewage. Sewage systems are part of modern infrastructure and urban utilities, which also include gas, electric, and water supply.

Venice is very unique in terms of its sewage disposal; the canals are the main way waste is disposed of in Venice, though new technology has improved the sewage aspect of Venice's infrastructure. However, bringing a more modern, efficient sewage disposal system to Venice is a challenge that currently has many obstacles.


Venice has been, historically, one of Europe’s cleanest cities. 15th-century Venetians dealt with their waste by flinging it out into the streets, as many medieval people did; Venice's streets were made of water, however, and the tides conveniently swept waste out to sea twice a day. This kept Venice clean of waste compared with other cities, utilizing the power of the tides and Venice’s nature as a city of water to remove waste long before modern sewage disposal systems existed. As a result, Venice developed one of the first sewer systems to be implemented in the world; the unique, gravity-driven system of underground channels and waste water drainage is called a fognatura.

A sboccho in a damaged canal wall

In the 16th century, a network of tunnels was put in place in the walls and under the pavement of walkways in Venice to collect waste water and rain water. These tunnels, called “gatoli, ” collected and channeled the city’s waste water, which would then flow out into the waters of the lagoon.Gatoli are still present in Venice today as a means of channeling waste away from the city; however, they are centuries old, and are becoming damaged or falling apart in addition to not being able to handle the high number of people always present in modern Venice. Additionally, the physical outlets where sewage waste enter the canals, called sbocchi, are as old as the Venetian foundations they are in, and are in disrepair as well, as seen in the picture on the left where a sboccho in a highly damaged canal wall is revealed during canal maintenance by Insula S.p.A..

The use of canals as a sewage disposal system in Venice has come to an unpleasant surprise to the visitors and tourists of Venice for hundreds of years, and the stereotype of Venice's water as filthy and dangerous is just as old. The presence of sewage in the canals contributes to the unpleasant smell that tourists complain of, and locals often attribute the smell to "naturally occurring algae and silt" in the canals, though the sewage is the real culprit. Venice's antiquated sewage system is very different from modern sewer systems found in other urban areas around the world, which is part of why tourists are so shocked and exaggerate the smell. Local Venetians ignore the stench of the canals as they are simply used to it.

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