RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The beaches are a mess. I’m no tree-hugger, but I did grow up in the green mountain state (Vermont), and after living in NYC for fifteen years or so, I believe there is a level of garbage expected in a city, and another level acceptable for a natural environment. An obvious paradox for a city beach, even (or especially) in Rio.
According to the IBGE of 2008, there were 11,513,000 people residing in the Metropolitan Region of Rio de Janeiro. Almost all of them like going to the beach. Big and tall, beautiful and less so, they bus and Metro in from around the city to spend time on nature’s wonderland.
On a single night, with a special event like New Year’s Eve, over 2,000,000 people can make their way to Copacabana Beach. That is a lot of garbage-producing-less-then-environmentally-conscious people.
On a regular summer weekend, by high Noon you are lucky to find a spot of sand to pop an umbrella or spread out a canga (beach sheet). It’s a little better during the week, but with school on holiday it can get pretty messy all-the-same… it is 35-40 degrees Celsius ( approximately 90-100 F) after all.
Rio has the COMLURB (Companhia Municipal de Limpeza Urbana) – the authority in charge of cleaning up the city’s waste, and they are visible and obviously working hard.
The problem is they are out-manned, out-gunned (so to speak) and hopelessly unable to keep the beach clean. Clean of beer cans, straws, candy wrappers, coconut shells, and unmentionables… it appears to be an endless, loosing battle.
Obviously there are more pressing political, economic and social issues facing the city, but… in a lot of ways, Rio IS the Beach. So how can the city protect it?
I’ve got two ideas, although I’m no lawmaker and realize this is a complicated matter. But the first idea is a new tax added to Copacabana ad Ipanema retail and consumer businesses, perhaps just 1 percent of sales (maybe even starting with exiting the public transportation).
So anyone coming to the beach to trash it, has to pay just a little more to keep it clean. It will seem negligible, but the PR effect would be significant alone, and in reality it’s a bit of a “luxury tax” anyways.
Then an Açaí (served in a disposable cup), or that Globo bag of puff-fried lard, or the over-priced ice-cream bars sold by the shrieking beach vendors – all help pay for cleaning.
These funds can go towards a new fleet of the beach cleaning machines. A beach cleaner is a vehicle that drags a raking or sifting device over beach sand to remove rubbish and other foreign matter. Smaller beach cleaners are either manually hand-drawn, or pulled by quad-bike or tractor.
I don’t know how much they cost, but I suggest they run nightly along Ipanema and Copacabana. Maybe even mid-day to start as well, just to make an impression, remind all the carefree beach-trashers that it takes effort to keep nature natural.
The second idea is a Draconian litter law, with heavy fines, and if caught multiple times, the offender is forced to eat what they were throwing away in the sand, on national TV, during Big Brother.