Opinion, by Michael Royster

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The title acronym, short for “Garbage In, Garbage Out”, was once only for computers, but now describes failures in decision-making due to faulty, incomplete or imprecise data. Carioca residents have since last week recognized the cogency of this logic, as we have all seen garbage (still) in bins and garbage (still) out on the street.

Michael Royster, aka The Curmudgeon.
Michael Royster, aka The Curmudgeon.

In Rio waste collectors are uniformly known as “garis” and are identified by the garish (pun intended) orange color of their uniforms. In 1876 an entrepreneur named Pedro Aleixo Gary was awarded a contract to rid the Rio streets of horse manure. When denizens here saw fragrant piles, they called for the “turma do gary” or Gary’s gang. After some years, the workers themselves became known as “garis”.

But I digress.

Every day, the citizens of Rio dump an astonishing amount of litter (“lixo” in Portuguese) directly onto the streets, sidewalks, beaches, gardens, lawns, flowerbeds, and into the waters of canals, bays, inlets and the Lagoa. Many people still allow their pooches to poop on the sidewalks, and run free on the beaches. Garbage in, Garbage out.

The basic problem is that, way down deep, most Cariocas think it’s okay to throw stuff they don’t want on the ground, in the gutters, anywhere at all, precisely because there are garis whose job is to clean up after other people. This sentiment is occasionally voiced by some who say “if we don’t litter, they’ll have to fire hundreds of garis, who will lose their livelihood.” Garbage in, Garbage out.

Comlurb has placed many orange receptacles around on streets, but there are never enough; moreover, the opening is so small that you can’t get anything big in them. The boxes themselves are ridiculously undersized: they don’t keep up with a normal day’s use, let alone during Carnaval, and there are simply not enough garis about to go and empty them more than once a day. Garbage in, Garbage out.

Some garis went on strike during Carnaval. Rather than cantering down the Marquês de Sapucai after the last samba school parade, they shouldered their brooms, shovels and dustpans and headed home. The next street they appeared on was Avenida Rio Branco, the city’s main thoroughfare and the scene of most protest demonstrations, not to mention overflowing rubbish bins. Garbage in, Garbage out.

March is the official collective bargaining month and the labor union which represents the garis has announced an agreed nine percent raise from last year. The striking dissidents want a fifty percent raise, and claim the labor union doesn’t represent them. The city cannot, by law, negotiate with anyone other than the labor union. Garbage in, Garbage out.

Another problem is that the strikers have been staking out Comlurb’s headquarters, trying to prevent other garis from working. Out on the job, garis have been threatened by strikers. So, municipal guards and even police are now sent out to protect the working garis from their colleagues as they do their rounds. Garbage in, Garbage out.

Postscript. This was written on Saturday afternoon, hours before the representatives of the garis met with representatives of Comlurb at the Regional Labor Court and cobbled together a deal which gives the garis a raise of over thirty percent. So, back on the street they went, to general applause.

Michael Royster, aka THE CURMUDGEON first saw Rio forty-plus years ago, fetched up on these shores exactly 36 years ago, still loves it, notwithstanding being a charter member of the most persecuted minority in (North) America today, the WASPs (google it!)(get over it!)


  1. It appears to be almost a class distinction thing, ‘the street cleaners are my maids’ sort of idea and Brasillians do love to let you know that they are of a ‘better’ class than the next guy. Good article.

  2. As usual, a well-written article Mr. Roster.

    But what do you prescribe as a solution to the GIGO syndrome that seems to afflict Rio’s municipal ethos?

  3. A comment not about the article itself, but about his bio. WASPs are the minority that do the most persecuting in North America today. They aren’t the most persecuted. Just because they’re being told to follow the Constitution that they profess to hold so dear and allow people to worship as they see fit, accept all people according to the teachings of their favorite jewish carpenter, and stop telling lies doesn’t make them persecuted. The rest of society is just trying to help make them good members of society.

  4. Hizzoner the Mayor has begun an anti-littering campaign, which can impose fines. Ironically (?) he had to fine himself last week because at some public appearance he finished eating some fruit and through the peel over his shoulder. The nearest dumpster was over 300 meters away.
    The campaign will take time, but they have lots of signs out, warning people. The Zona Sul in Rio now sees most dog-walkers carrying around plastic bags and actually picking up do-do.
    Previously they removed the concrete parking barricades from sidewalks, amid cries that Cariocas would return to parking on the sidewalks, but that didn’t happen.
    What they need is bigger and better receptacles, not to mention more of them. I’ve seen smokers look for somewhere to stub the butt out before putting it in a bin filled with paper, but they doing that on plastic doesn’t seem right, so they wind up throwing it on the sidewalk or street.
    There is hope in Mudville….


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