Rio de Janeiro Lays Down the Law on Littering

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Residents of Rio de Janeiro are learning the high cost of littering with the enactment of the city's new Zero Waste law. Photo: morguefile/Seemann

Residents of Rio de Janeiro are learning the high cost of littering with the enactment of the city’s new Zero Waste law. Photo: morguefile/Seemann

Rio de Janeiro has some big events to plan for — namely, hosting the World Cup in 2014 and the Summer Olympics in 2016. And, as part of the preparation for those competitive events, the city is already talking trash.

Rio has turned its attention to fighting widespread littering with the introduction of the Lixo Zero program. Lixo Zero — literally, Zero Waste — is new legislation that slaps stiff penalties to people who don’t pick up after themselves or their pets. Comlurb, the cleaning company responsible for enforcing the new law, has gone to extensive lengths to train inspectors about how to differentiate between intentional and accidental littering, and how to stand firm in the face of excuses.

The city is taking it seriously, and once the deed is done, there’s no talking your way out of a ticket, officials say. Dropping waste on the sidewalk or street will cost the U.S. equivalent of between approximately $43 and $1,320. Those who are ticketed but fail to pay up will have it noted on their government-run identification documents, and that information will be a black mark that affects their eligibility for such things as loans and credit cards.

In a city where trash often piles up on the street, the new law could significantly change both the appearance and the overall health of the city. But critics of the new bill claim there’s an insufficient number of trash bins for them to use; studies show they have one waste bin for every 200 residents. Comlurb has said it will provide more bins if needed.

To illustrate how widespread the problem was, in the weeks before the program began, the city discontinued  garbage collection on a beach in Ipanema to show how much trash accumulates over a single weekend; local newspapers published the photos.

Currently Rio only recycles 3 percent of its trash, and most of that (2.73 percent) is done by individuals and groups who collect material from the trash.

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