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Opinion, by Alfonso Stefanini

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Ash Wednesday has arrived but Carnival is not over. “Blocos”, or street parades, will continue until the end of next weekend. The “desfile das campeãs”, the official samba school winner’s parade, and the decompression post-parties are just a few of the events still taking place throughout the city.

Alfonso Stefanini, environmental consultant in Rio de Janeiro.
Alfonso Stefanini, environmental consultant in Rio de Janeiro.

While the festivities continue, so will the peeing by the “foliões”, or Carnival party-goers, who many times have a hard time finding restrooms or chemical bathrooms in the pack-jammed streets.

Every Carnival Rio’s police crack down on the street urinating public. The “pee patrol” seeks those who relieve themselves on practically everything and everywhere, and the ones that get caught are arrested and have to pay a fine.

While people wait in the long lines for the bathrooms, if they find any, and conversation starters ease-off the discomfort of having a full bladder, a potential energy source is at hand, and that is pee power.

This past Carnival AfroReggae, a music group and organization that advocates social issues, introduced to the public revolutionary “xixi” (pee-pee) power-generating urinals.

These alternative bathrooms work by the gravitational force of the falling substances to turn a small turbine, working very much like a hydroelectric plant. These pico hydro units produced small quantities of electricity that were stored in batteries used to help power their “trio elétrico”, a truck equipped with giant speakers to amplify music. Although the power produced by these two alternative bathrooms was small, the green publicity brought to the public was huge.

As inventive as it sounds, generating pee power is not a new idea. In Japan, a company has developed batteries that use the chemical breakdown of pee as fueling force. The batteries, called NoPoPo, for No Pollution Power, provide the right hand approach to a very real problem: regular batteries contain many toxic compounds and heavy metals and windup in landfills, imposing a health hazard to humans, plants and animals. The bio-batteries, on the other hand, promise a product that, if spilled, can only “piss-off” people.

Green marketing campaigns are gaining momentum this year. A major Brazilian beer brand sponsoring Carnival has promoted can recycling by giving away free subway tickets in exchange for empty aluminum containers with their name brand.

The most important aspect of the AfroReggae xixi power generating initiative was bringing awareness to foliões about where their waste goes to. After all, yellow is the new green.

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Alfonso Stefanini has an MA in International Environmental Policy from the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California and a BA from Hampshire College. Alfonso lives in Rio de Janeiro, and he can be reached at: Ecobrasilis@gmail.com.

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