Opinion by Michael Royster

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Last week the Mayor’s office announced, with a discrete amount of pomp, that City Hall was about to start enforcing the Urban Clean-Up Code. Municipal Law 3.273 dates from 2001, yet for the past nine years its existence has been completely ignored by almost everyone, especially John & Jane Carioca, the Man & Woman on the Street.

The Curmudgeon, aka Michael Royster.

Zero Tolerance it’s not, but the law sets out some 135 rules for the disposal of Rubbish In Rio, so it’s a step in the right direction. Hizzoner says that starting this week, some 550 employees of Comlurb, the municipal waste disposal company, will be subjected to a course, run by pedagogues and sociologists, about citizenship, ethics and legislation.

These chosen few disciples will, in January, be dispensed to the Four Corners of Rio (the North, South, West and Central Zones) in order to preach the gospel of Don’t Litter. Will this work? Will the 550 themselves be convinced enough to go out into the highways and hedges and convert the disbelievers?

The Curmudgeon submits that the real question is why Comlurb employees would want to promote a campaign which will, if successful, result in many of them losing their jobs? According to Comlurb, some 40 percent of the total rubbish taken off to the dumps comes from public areas such as streets, sidewalks, roads and beaches.

Legions of “garis”, all clothed in bright orange designer coveralls, can be seen daily, sweeping the streets, up to 5 or 6 times a day in downtown Rio. Most of these are manual laborers by trade, without the technical qualifications needed for most other jobs.

The logical extension of this campaign, is that if people in Rio really do stop littering the streets, if they cease to flip cigarette butts, chewing gum and candy wrappers, losing lottery tickets and other assorted trash onto the sidewalk, hundreds of these “garis” will no longer have anything left to do.

Their job requirements have already been reduced by the legions of derelicts trolling the orange waste disposal receptacles in the hopes of finding a recyclable bit of aluminum or cardboard or newsprint—or perhaps, a leftover scrap of fast food or drink. If there’s no more detritus strewn on the streets, the “garis” might as well pack up their brooms and head off for less antiseptic climes.

But maybe, just maybe, it will work. Maybe shopkeepers will cease to put their rubbish on the sidewalks any time they feel like it, knowing the garbage truck won’t be along for another 7 or 8 hours (if that). Maybe the loan sharks and pawn shops will decide not to hire hundreds of poor people to distribute the small flyers promising financial redemption (We buy gold!). Maybe the politicians will cease to distribute the small flyers promising political redemption (We buy votes!).

But don’t hold your breath, because under the Mayor’s campaign, the first step is to educate the people, to coax or embarrass them into compliance. The second step is a carrot, rather than a stick—the Mayor will award a prize to the Administrative Region in Rio that most reduces its rubbish. The third step is to impose fines.

The Curmudgeon submits that (i) education won’t work because most Cariocas are simply too blasé about littering; (ii) the prize goes to a local governmental entity, not to any of the people who have ceased to litter—so why would people care? and (iii) the fines are so paltry (R$50 to R$80) that it is difficult to imagine violators feeling any financial pressure.

Michael Royster, aka THE CURMUDGEON first saw Rio forty-plus years ago, moved here thirty-plus 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. This is one of the few aspects of ‘choque do ordem’ that i actually agree with (in addition to fining people for public urination and the ‘lei seca’)…

    Everything else – the banning of football on the beaches… the persecution of street vendors… is a disgrace…

  2. I have to wonder why you are in Brazil with such a pessimistic attitude of Cariocas. Do you not remember the states back in the early 60’s before the Indian campaign against littering? Have you ever traveled through Mexico to see the absolute lack of pride with the way they trash their streets? At least they are attempting to do something. Progress not perfection!

  3. Mike – the author is correct in what he’s saying. Obviously, he likes Rio, since he’s living here… but is frustrated by certain traits of Cariocas. Me too – i love living here, but i get irritated constantly seeing Cariocas (from all socio-economic classes) throwing trash on the streets… out the windows of buses… on the sand at the beach… into the ocean – it’s disgraceful and needs to be addressed. Now let’s just hope that this is actually enforced properly…


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