Communities Field Note: Managing Waste

Here in Rio, it often appears that people are truly trying to take care of the environment. At my school (PUC Rio), there are always separate trash cans for recycling next to the normal ones. There is also a great program that pays people for cans they collect to recycle them. You will often see people around the beach and the streets who are collecting cans to make a living. It is not a good way to make a living, but it does provide some sort of income and at the same time, it is good for the environment.

However, people’s general habits need to change in order to truly protect the environment. Many people want to promote better environmental practices, but there are many negative habits that people have. For example, at the beach most people just leave their trash on the ground, expecting someone to pick it up. The beach becomes covered in litter, which is not a pretty sight. Or, many people don’t pay attention and throw all their trash into the recycling bins.

One of the issues that Rio faces is waste management in its favelas, or poor communities. Favelas are unplanned communities. There are not many community services there. In the favelas, sewer grates can sometimes explode. When heavy rains fall, the sewage system is unable to handle the water. Sometimes the grates explode upward and have actually caused a couple of injuries. There is also a problem with garbage collection. It is not uncommon to see full trash bags waiting on street corners for days. When people see trash collected in piles like that they start to dump their trash there too and it simply collects. Finally, in the favelas there is no easy way to recycle. Therefore, most people living there do not recycle.

Another problem for the environment in Rio is the quality of the water. It is not safe to drink the water from the tap. You might get sick if you did! Most buildings will have a filtered water dispenser that people can use. However, it still seems that most people just buy plastic water bottles. Plastic water bottles are not good for the environment.

I think that care for the environment is getting better here in Rio. My aunt visited Rio in the 1990s, and she told me that the canal between Ipanema and Leblon (my neighborhood) used to spew sewage into the ocean. This is definitely no longer the case. I included a picture of the canal. You can see the sewage treatment system. It seems to get the job done.

In 2014, Rio will host the World Cup. In 2016, Rio will host the Olympics. These big events are drawing closer! The city is not yet ready for the amount of tourists it is about to receive. When it rains and trash overflows into the streets from the sewers, it is time to recognize that there is a problem. I hope that more attention will be paid soon to environmental awareness and programs in Rio.

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