Olá! I’m Ellen, a holandesa in Rio. I’ve been living in Brazil for a couple of years and since a few months I’m the Dopper ambassador for Brazil, which basically means that I’m spreading the Dopper message among Brazilians I’ll give you a monthly update about my experiences and the awareness campaigns that I’m organizing concerning (single-use) plastic, clean water and clean beaches.
One of the things I love most about Brazil is its beautiful nature. Only within a radius of 4 hours distance, we have Rio’s postcard Copacabana, amazing waterfalls a few hours away, green mountains with amazing views within the city and a tropical island with one of its beaches ranked in the list of the world’s five most beautiful beaches. And these are only a few examples. But pollution is a problem in Brazil too. People throw trash on the streets, out of the car window, into canals and on the beaches, and seem to think: “Someone will clean this up”. This is partly true: the poorest of the Brazilians often make an (informal) living by collecting aluminium and PET, but obviously they can’t take account for all the garbage that is thrown away every minute. Just take a look at the cities beaches on a hot Sunday after sunset. The sand will be covered with plastic bottles, plastic single-use cups, straws and bear and soda cans. Apparently people think someone will clean this for them. True: The cities garbage service will clean the beach superficially, and the rest disappears into the ocean by every wave. Result: the next day, the beach is all clean again.
Seabirds and plastic
But the ocean obviously is not. During a trip to the (uninhabited) islands in front of Rio’s costs, called Ilhas Cagarras and Ilhas Maricás, with an NGO called Ilhas do Rio (Rio’s Islands), I learned how much plastic we find at places where human beings don’t have access. The NGO preserves and studies these islands, and twice a year they organize clean ups at the islands and, diving, under the water surrounding them, as there is a lot of trash, mostly plastic but also metal (cans) and Styrofoam. An incredible story they told the public by way of a photography exhibition is about a type of seabird (Fregata magnificens) that breads at one of these islands. During one of their scientific visits, they encountered an enormous amount of plastic while, apart from a few fisherman, no humans visit the island. Then they realized that it’s the birds that pick up plastic floating at the surface of the ocean, take it to the island and use it to build their nests!
Who’s responsible anyway?
Back to Rio. Today I read in the newspapers that last Sunday, during the inauguration of the renovated Mauá square downtown, a number of people were fined after they had thrown trash on the square, but that the polluters complained because the government hadn’t placed sufficient bins. Pointing a finger only generates pointing fingers back, in my opinion. But also, this example illustrates that, apparently, people find the government more responsible for their trash than they find themselves.
That’s why I think we should not create consciousness – because I think people know trash should not be in the ocean, or on the square, beach, waterfall, etc. Instead, we need to responsibilize people and mobilize them to act and do their part. Without pointing angry fingers, but by presenting alternatives (Dopper!) and, in a fun way, changing the perception of the Brazilians that garbage is a collective problem that we need to solve collectively, instead of by the informal garbage collectors and the government only. That’s my challenge and that’s what I will be doing as the Dopper Ambassador Brazil!