Why is Rio so dirty? almost every visitor asks, even those who love the place, people who end up staying.
This question set RioReal blog in search of both answers and trash, for the three-minute pilot of what we hope to be an ongoing series of RioRealblogTV videos. Please watch, share, and tell us what you think, both about trash in the city and the short video itself. Soon, we’ll be looking for funding.
What we found
One thing we found was not as much trash as there used to be. The campaign begun last year, Lixo Zero (Zero Trash), with its fines, has had an impact. In areas where the inspectors have been active — downtown and some South Zone neighborhoods — trash collection has gone down as much as 58%!
Trash is still one of the biggest complaints among residents of favelas, where the geography often hinders collection.
We also heard about the Brazilian mentality (which appears to be changing, albeit slowly) regarding the disposal of trash in the street. This blogger is old enough to recall the first Earth Day in the United States in 1970 — a day spent along with other teens, picking up bagsful of trash around the trolley tracks in suburban Newton, Massachusetts.
Forty-odd years later, it’s shocking in Rio for visitors (and locals) to note the general lack of concern about paper and plastic left lying around. Along the Ipanema waterfront, for example, kiosk administrators abandon even their own customer territories to the city garbage men, the orange-suited garis.
But then, we love those garis, don’t we? Rio’s famous dancing, smiling gari, Renato “Sorriso” Luiz Feliciano Lourenço, must be smiling because he loves to pick up after us, right?
That’s not what Landenberg Benedito da Silva, a gari we interviewed, said. And the garbage men, who claim they’re underpaid, aren’t all smiling, either. Some of them are on strike, during Carnival, of all times!
Aside from a lack of concern for the environment, Brazilians may also have a fragile sense of responsibility for public space. This is, after all, a nation where many politicians often think of public assets as belonging to them and their clans, rather than to everyone. And the government has been known to simply grab what we thought was private property, like when the Collor government sequestered bank account holdings, in 1990. So why, when we have extra work protecting our own stuff, should we bother with anything beyond the sidewalk out front?
And yet, some people do bother. Such as Alexandre Fernando da Fonseca, who bikes to the beach every weekday, to pick up trash. Allan Ribeiro presides over a Carnival bloco, Eu Amo a Lapa, that does its best, amid the fun, to encourage safety and cleanliness.
Whether the litter is overwhelming or not, there’s a central figure in the trash story of this city: the trashpicker, who gets ten cents an aluminum can. You’ll find one of those angels at the very end of our video.
Our fabulous video team: Jimmy Chalk, Gabriel Michaels de Carvalho and Kate Steiker-Ginzburg