Carnival 2013: straining sustainability

How about a re-think?

Carnival can be quite  a serious affair

Carnival can be quite a serious affair

Possibly, 6.5 million did the dance

City officials usually announce the number of revelers just after Ash Wednesday, but so far this year there’s no news. A mere 900,000 tourists (up from 850,000 in 2012) were expected, 70,000 of whom were to arrive on cruise ships.

One bloco alone, Cordão da Bola Preta, Rio’s oldest, on Saturday drew an estimated 1.8 million people downtown for a five-hour parade, which resulted in chaos at its completion.

Caught up on work, for the moment

Trash collectors: caught up on work, for the moment

There were more military police, traffic coordinators and municipal guards in the streets, more porta-potties, and more trash receptacles than ever before. The city also, for the first time, put up protective fencing around monuments and decorative plantings on median strips.

Most of such organizing this year, including sponsorship negotiations, was carried out by Dream Factory, an events company that will also set up the Pope’s visit and accompanying activities this coming July. Dream Factory is run by Roberta Medina, daughter of the adman who invented the Rock in Rio festival, back in the 1980s. Two years ago, Dream Factory partnered with the Lausanne-based TSE international sports consultancy outfit.

Dream Factory seems to have thought of just about everything. But Brasília’s unplanned satellite cities came to mind, as dozens of poor families moved temporarily to the South Zone to supply the revelers, sleeping in tents or on cardboard on the beach, median strips, and city sidewalks. A municipal guard told RioRealblog that the city social development secretariat, responsible for those living on the street, wasn’t working during carnival– though O Dia newspaper reported that 93 people were in fact picked up.

Tent city in Ipanema

Tent life in Ipanema

The Rio metro, a state concession, ran 24 hours a day instead of closing at midnight, but was unable to handle peak traffic, shutting down station entrances and reportedly removing fire extinguishers from trains to prevent vandalism. Riding a bus any day in Rio is a percussive experience, but this can be terrifying during Carnival, with chanting costumed drunks beating on the bus body, jumping turnstiles and threatening passengers.

Never enough

And Comlurb, the city sanitation company, admitted that it sorely underestimated what people decided to discard– and thus, the number of needed trash collectors, which came to 1,070 men and women.

Not a light footprint

Not a light footprint

Urban sanitation was mentioned as a negative aspect of the Rio Carnival experience by one out of four tourists, in a survey of 1,200 carried out by the Consultoria em Turismo e Fundação Cesgranrio. Other complaints included hotel rates (38%) and taxis (18%). Notably, 75% of those interviewed were here for the first time. They were kept company by Kim Kardashian, Kanye West and Will Smith; Harrison Ford and family showed up last weekend for the parade of champions and a visit to a pacified favela.

Carnival gold

Carnival gold

Rio enjoys a certain elasticity. Tourists grapple with ATM machines, are shocked by how few people speak English, get ripped off by taxi drivers, suffer abominable restaurant service and cell phone hardships– and immediately make plans to move here. Actors Monica Bellucci and Vincent Cassel are just two of the most recent arrivals.

Meanwhile, longtime residents of areas where the blocos parade find little consolation in rubbing shoulders with the fancy newcomers, or in the news that police arrested more than 800 mijões, or pee-ers. For them, even one mijão is one too stinking many.

Rare example

Rare example

Incipient recycling 

Informal recyclers– some of whom are the people who stay overnight on the beach– quickly pick up the aluminum cans and smash them for selling. But– note to Ambev– that still leaves the plastic wrapping the cans and the ice to cool them, plus all kinds of other trash.

By last Thursday, this totaled 400 tons. Multiply by three, and you get the weight of Rio’s Christ Redeemer statue. Another 170 tons were collected in the weekend prior to Carnival, and more is sure to have piled up last weekend, also part of the bloco calendarwhen the Carnival parade of champions took place.

Not even Superman...

Not even Superman…

In the case of the estimated 500 bloco parades in different parts of the city every day of Carnival 2013, almost 30% more trash was collected than last year, when about five million people reveled in Rio (up from a mere 1.2 million in 2011). If per capita trash production remained the same from 2012, that means 6.5 million were thankful it didn’t rain last week– though a nice shower might have mitigated the heat– and the stench.

The cans are mostly beer empties, from the Ambev conglomerate that sponsored Rio’s street Carnival (and just bought Heinz, together with Warren Buffet). According to one calculation, Rio street revelers managed to drink a total of 600,000 cans’ worth an hour.

Anything goes

Anything goes, but be protected

Trash cans on wheels, next year

According to O Globo newspaper, Comlurb plans to seek partnerships with sponsors and blocos to grow its orange army, and invest in mechanization.

The city says the street carnival sponsorship mechanism, which this year brought in US$7.5 million equivalent, helps to pay for porta-potties and traffic coordinators, plus vendor licensing and uniforms.  Riotur president Antonio Pedro Figueira de Mello says the city “saved” this amount, by having Ambev and other companies chip in.

Messy preparations

Messy preparations

But what they don’t seem to realize is that the more beer you sell, the more bathrooms you need, so the sponsorships can actually be said to add to the city’s costs. And these are likely to rise every year, as more and more people discover the city’s charms– as long as that elasticity keeps on stretching.

They moved from Minas Gerais

They moved from Minas Gerais

A proposal for beer pioneers

Perhaps next year, a progressive bloco such as Ash Wednesday’s Me Beije que Sou Cineasta (Kiss Me, I’m a Filmmaker), in Gávea, could ask participants to bring their own beer mugs, and serve draft beer?

Meanwhile, revelers may be finding their own logistical solutions. Apparently, distilled liquor has some distinct advantages over beer…

[UPDATE: yesterday the city at last announced Carnival statistics— and blamed revelers for the cleanup difficulties.]

About Rio real

American journalist, writer, editor who's lived in Rio de Janeiro for 20 years.
This entry was posted in Brazil, Transformation of Rio de Janeiro / Transformação do Rio de Janeiro and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Carnival 2013: straining sustainability

  1. Excellent article, describing perfectly my first time Carnaval da Rua experience. I’m still stunned. While there were many beautiful moments (morning blocos with families), they were counterbalanced by way too many drunks and mountains of garbage for my taste. I truly hope this will be cleaned up for the future.

    My mother lived here (in Rio), in the late ’40’s and early ’50’s. I grew up with her fond memories and photos of Carnival from those days. What I saw instead, was not what I expected.

  2. Robson says:

    Mandou muito bem, Julia! Melhor texto que li até agora sobre o carnaval de rua desse ano, não escapou nada! Bjs

  3. Pingback: The Sustainability of Carnaval (and Other Remarkable Facts) « Americas South and North

  4. Rio real says:

    obrigada, Alana and Robson! bjs

  5. Barbara Harrington says:

    I think you’re being very generous — here in Santa Teresa, which is technically part of the Center — attendance was much higher than ever and yet this year there were fewer chemical toilets, fewer municipal guards, and a lot more trash — the neighborhood still hasn’t been completely cleaned up. No traffic plan, no clearing the cars out of Largo do Guimarães the night before. At the end of the events on Aterro a huge wave of people flooded Gloria and Catete — with no extra trains or buses or (seemingly) police.
    Blocos are the best possible investment — they provide more than a week’s worth of virtually free entertainment for millions of foliões for almost nothing. It must be the cheapest show on Earth. They do all the work themselves and for a few hundred thousand the city provides one week of non-stop programming for audiences of more than one million! Ambev probably spends less on one night of television commercials — and this is all to sell its beer! Cheap publicity, licensed street vendors who (at least in Santa were only allowed to sell Antartica beer. )The number of people who attended Bola Preta was about the same amount that attends New Year’s on Copacabana Beach — just compare the amount of planning that goes into transportation, infrastructure and entertainment for the two events!
    I wonder what would happen if the blocos in Santa Teresa were to refuse funding. No publicity in the newspaper, no listings, no cheap advertising for Ambev, no advance notice for when the Blocos will parade. With instant messaging and social media, nothing can be kept hidden for long, but I bet they’d be smaller, more manageable, more charming, and more local — aka more sustainable.

  6. Rio real says:

    thanks for this, Barbara. We need more thought outside the box–

  7. Pingback: Brazil’s 2013 Carnival may have rocked … but it also stank. - Sexy Hollywood Celebrity

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