One mans trash, no one’s treasure – Observations

I was skimming headlines on O Globo today when I saw a photograph of a pile of rubbish that a reader sent in which angered her but sadly didn’t shock me.

I’m not sure where these piles of trash come from or why someone or some company thinks any ol’ spot will do when looking for a place to dump their waste but when living in Brazil, I got quite used to seeing them. They weren’t all the size of the pile in the photo (most were smaller) but still, I was baffled at an assortment of things…

1. Why is someone doing this?
2. Why do they think it’s okay to do this?
3. Where do responsible people dump things?
4. If there aren’t better options, why not?
5. Are the local governments doing anything about this?
6. Is this considered illegal (dumping)?
7. What do onlookers do when they see this happening?
8. Does it somehow stem from the practice of littering?*

* – I’ve witnessed people throwing their trash on the ground many times in Brazil…and I’m sure you have too.

Pride shouldn’t just pertain to football, right? Brazil banned smoking in many public spaces, which might as well be seen as air-littering, so why not ban ground-littering too? In São Paulo there was the Clean City law but that only banned billboards. I could talk about this until the cows come home but I’d rather come up with some ways of stamping out this problem.

How about imposing heavy fines for littering? This seems to work well in other countries. What kind of measures are in place to prevent this from happening? Is this a “everyone else does it so why shouldn’t I?” issue that probably won’t change or is it just that no one has spearheaded a large enough campaign against it?

5 thoughts on “One mans trash, no one’s treasure – Observations

  1. I think this and a lot of other problems in Brazil is that we don’t have a collection agency like other countries. Without something like this it’s impossible to penalize people with fines without going through the Judiciary system.

    • Hi Leonardo,

      I suppose you are referring to the ‘dump’, which is where we (in the US) can take our waste in large quantities. I know Brazil has regular trash collectors just like we do here but you’re right, I’ve yet to hear about a waste dump/landfill site.

      What about the police? I suppose they would have to catch someone in the act. For example, in São Paulo I noticed police of some sort writing down license plate numbers of people who made illegal stops or turns, etc and I was told those infractions are sent through the mail to the owner of the vehicle. Here, the police have to literally stop you but our traffic light cameras send out heavy fines ($325) for running a red light and that gets sent through the mail.

      Back to the issue of littering, it seems there isn’t much that can be done aside from create government-run landfill sites that are accessible to the general public. Now that I think of it, what about places like Ilha das Flores in Porto Alegre? Or (is it called) Boca de Lixo in Itaoca near São Gonçalo in Rio? Aren’t those dump sites?


  2. Sorry, I was not clear enough. :-) By a collection agency I mean an entity that has the power to make someone pay a fine. In Brazil it is impossible to make someone pay a fine, it works for people who own cars or depend on government services because then the government can refuse renewing the license or providing the service, but for “normal” people littering the street, for example, even if there was a fine for that it is impossible to make the person pay. I’ll give you another example: according to the law, people who cross the street without using the zebra crossing should be fined but this was never actually put in practice because there is no way to fine people and make them pay. Unfortunately Brazilians will only change their habits when their pockets are hurt, and without having a way to fine people this will continue forever.

  3. I live in Recife, Brazil.
    Here the trash is left outside our apartment and collected and sorted each night by the poor people. They only recieve money from the various cans and bottles they take for re-cycle. This system seems to work ok in Recife.

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