By Maria Lopez Conde, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Dropping an empty soda can on the busy streets of Copacabana could earn you a pricey R$157 fine this year, as Rio de Janeiro will begin to issue fines for those caught littering public spaces in July, city officials announced last month.
The initiative, part of the Prefeitura’s Lixo Zero (Zero Waste) program, will enforce penalties established by an urban sanitation law approved in 2001.
An individual caught throwing garbage the size of a beer can or smaller on the ground will be fined R$157. Disposing of up to one cubic meter of solid waste improperly will carry a R$392 penalty, while failing to discard an amount of trash greater than that correctly will result in a R$980 fine. Large-scale dumping carries a R$3,000 fine.
Vinícius Roriz, president of COMLURB, Rio de Janeiro’s Municipal Urban Cleaning Company, is hoping the measure will bring a change of habits in a city considered one of the ten dirtiest tourism hot spots in the world, according to a Trip Advisor survey.
“One of the biggest problems we have in the city is that bad habit of discarding waste incorrectly, so we implemented a plan of action based on raising awareness and oversight,” Roriz told The Rio Times in an interview. “My hope is that we do not collect any money from fines and that people change their behavior quickly because our objective is to educate, not to raise funds.”
Those caught littering will be fined on the spot by municipal guards, specially trained Comlurb agents and military police armed with palm pilots. Penalties will be registered under the infractor’s CPF (Cadastro Pessoa Física), Brazil’s Social Security number. Unpaid fines will prevent violators from receiving credit and borrowing money.
“We started creating mechanisms that will make oversight more effective because we realized we get big behavior changes when there is oversight,” Roriz said, citing the city’s Lei Seca (Dry Law) operation, which brought tougher enforcement of drinking and driving laws, as an example of increased surveillance that reduced an unwanted behavior.
COMLURB spends over R$600 million per year to collect the trash found on Rio’s streets and beaches. Nearly 3,300 tons of trash are removed from public spaces every day, an amount equivalent to three Maracanã stadiums filled with litter over a year, according to O Globo.
“Cariocas must change their behavior in relation to garbage because trash is the responsibility of the citizen and not the state’s or their neighbor’s,” Roriz explained. “Proper waste disposal is fundamental for the city to be clean and healthy.”
For Angela Brandão and Regina César, domestic workers in Rio’s Zona Sul (South Zone), the new fines are what the city needs to educate citizens on waste disposal.
“People have to be more civilized. If you are on a bus, you don’t have to throw the trash out of the window. You can put it away in your purse,” Brandão said. “I think you have to fine people because making them pay is the only way they will learn not to litter,” César added.
Marco de Souza, a shoemaker in Flamengo, believes a lack of trash receptacles make proper disposal difficult. “Fining is not the answer,” de Souza affirmed. “There are few trash cans on the street where I work and when Comlurb collects trash, they leave a lot of waste behind.”
The program is targeting Rio’s Centro first, as well as busy commercial areas like Copacabana, Madureira, Méier and Tijuca.