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Opinion, by Alfonso Stefanini

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Rio de Janeiro State is trying to get a facelift by introducing a new law that penalizes people for throwing away litter on its streets. This seems like a fair law. After all, over R$16 million or US$8 million are spent every month sweeping the streets and beaches in Rio de Janeiro. The “porcalhões” or piggies indiscriminately throw garbage in the public commons with no consideration for the rest of the population.

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

The fines will range between R$157 to R$3,000 depending on the size of the rubbish discarded. If the residues thrown out are the size of a can of beer, or an actual can of beer for that matter, they will receive the lesser end of the fine, as opposed to someone illegally dumping construction materials who can receive a fine closer to R$3,000.

People that throw their cigarette butt and chewing gum will hopefully be fined as well. Cigarette butts take decades to biodegrade and can kill unsuspected fish and birds that confuse it for food. Most of the chewing gum on store stands are synthetic and take hundreds, maybe even thousands of years to degrade. Being a dog owner I also feel that this law should be applied harshly to people that don’t pick up their dog poop.

To be fair to the many piggies in Rio de Janeiro, there is a lack of adequate garbage recipients and many municipalities lack garbage collection, throwing a monkey wrench into how this fine is executed and rationalized. Either way, the State will start giving fines as of this July. Other cities like Recife are looking into the “Carioca” model to implement similar laws.

The fines will be given out by teams of officers, and each team will be composed of three people, including: one municipal guard, one overseer from the state cleaning company COMLURB and one military police. There will be only one palmtop to print the fine, making this operation look a little bit like a new sitcom version of the Three Stooges.

Tourists will not be free from the fine, and like citizens they will need to provide the proper documentation if they are caught littering. If a party caught does not have documentation they can be brought to the local police station for further investigation and fines.

Overtones of security control seem to highlight this new state law, which seems to be a security precursor for the mega-events that will take place in Rio: the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016. However, the actual security mechanisms implemented then will be left principally to the Institutional Security Cabinet (GSI), Center of Communications and Electronic Warfare (CCOMGEX), among a few others including the Federal Police.

Police corruption is still a major problem in Rio making people wonder if this law will be another venue to encourage “propinas” or bribes for releasing those who litter free from their willful crime. The fact that many poor areas of the city lack garbage collection make the law decision a political one by leaving behind the image of a dirty city while hosting these events.

Rio is a dirty city and educating people by way of fine, I believe, seems to be a fair way to mobilize Brazilian society’s lack of critical awareness about garbage disposal.

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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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