*By Patricia Fortunato
In Rio de Janeiro, an initiative creates a mountain of trash collected from the Copacabana beach. The city government is fining anyone who litters in order to awaken its citizens. Photo: Daniel Oliveira
From the front gate in, Brazilians are known to be a super clean people. In the simplest of homes you find proudly displayed pots and pans – so well-scrubbed they could be mirrors. In the homes of those with higher purchasing power the maids (a working class that in more developed countries is either in extinction or very well paid) are the ones who keep everything fresh and clean. This Brazilian proclivity to cleanliness has been very well documented, having been featured in magazines world-wide, including The Economist.
However, Brazilian public spaces speak of a different kind of people. According to a News story by Brazilian newspaper “O Globo”, 40 tons of trash have just been picked up from one of the most famous tourist destinations in the country – Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro.
The collected beach trash has been piled up in one of the streets of this legendary neighborhood in an effort to awaken Rio’s population to citizenship values.
This action was in part promoted by RIO EU AMO EU CUIDO (Rio, I love you, I care for you in Portuguese), a movement that, among other things, incentivizes people to take a snapshot of the street trash they find and post it on Instagram with the hashtag #RIOSEMLIXO (trash-free Rio). Even though it is hard to measure the impact of these kinds of initiatives, RIO EU AMO EU CUIDO has informed the media that there have been many occurrences of people who stopped throwing their cigarette butts in the street after learning about the movement.
Lixo Zero (Zero Trash), is another attempt from Rio’s government to try and tackle the population’s lack of hygiene and sense of citizenship. Since its inception on last August, 29,321 individuals have been caught in the act of littering, and received fines ranging from R$ 98 or US$40 (for those who do not pick up after their pet) to R$ 3 thousand or US$1,244 (for large quantities of irregular dumping). So far 4,870 have been paid for, while 14,384 are still pending. In order to get the offenders to pay-up instead of trying to contest the ticket (one Brazilian tried to get out of paying the fine by alleging no knowledge of this law due to the many years living overseas), Rio’s public cleaning company (Comlurb) signed and agreement with the Credit score agency so that the names of those with pending payment will be included in the list of debtors.
Comlurb points out that among the 14,384 pending tickets there are cases varying from a citizen from a neighboring state that mobilized many sectors of the company in order to get a new payment stub since the previous one was past due, to a German tourist who tried to pay the fine in cash, just as it is customary in his country of origine.
The Lixo Zero initiative, currently operating in 55 Rio neighborhoods, has resulted in 58% less trash thrown on the streets. Comlurb brings our attention to the fact that the program does not reduce the amount of trash being created, only the irregular disposal of the same. So far, the neighborhoods with the most fines are those located in downtown Rio: Centro, Copabacana, Leblon, Ipanema and Botafogo.
The results are uplifting and seem to confirm what cities such as New York and Chicago claim to have seen with the practice of fining for littering. But there is still plenty to be done. Zero Waste Scotland published a study that shows governments need to create long-term campaigns focused on different groups and situations in order to effectively change behavior –since there are many reasons why people litter, ranging from psychological to ignorance of laws. In the case of Brazil, perhaps the biggest hurdle is the overall tolerance to this kind of act.
It’s strange that, rich or poor, Brazilians are so clean in their homes and so little civilized when it comes to public spaces. There are just so many soft drink cans being thrown out of all sorts of cars. So many cigarette butts, left-over foods, shoes, and even so much furniture being thrown away in streets, beaches and tree-tops.
If we Brazilians are so clean in our homes, why can’t we be clean in our cities? Until then, let there be fines.
This post was originally featured as “Por que somos tão limpinhos em casa e tão porquinhos fora dela?” in IDB’s Ideacao blog.
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