Green Or Gone

Waste In Brazil, Where Environmental Failure Meets Dire Poverty

Brazil has utterly failed to find an environmentally friendly response to waste disposal. The struggling economy makes change unlikely, meaning ever more garbage "pickers" making modest livings sifting through the dumps.

A trash picker at the Gramacho Garden landfill, on the northern outskirts of Rio de Janeiro
A trash picker at the Gramacho Garden landfill, on the northern outskirts of Rio de Janeiro
Lucas Ferraz and Avener Prado

PERUÍBE — One of the ways to measure a country's development (or lack thereof) is to look at its garbage. Unfortunately for Brazil, such scrutiny is yet more proof that our country's woes, as we have plainly failed to eradicate landfills as the quantity of our garbage continues to pile up every year.

And it doesn't look like the situation will improve in the near future. Brazil's ongoing economic crisis and the unprecedented budget deficit of more than 50 billion reais ($13 billion) forecast for 2016 are certain to exacerbate the problem.

For the lowest rungs of society, it means ever more people will be pushed into the degrading position of sifting and sorting through the mountains of trash in dumps to resell what they can find, while the country as a whole has fewer resources to tackle the issue.

"I know that a lot of people don't have the courage to face such a disgusting task, but I really didn't have any other choice," explains 31-year-old Edson Sousa Silva, who recently began garbage "picking" in the landfill in Peruíbe, on the southern coast of São Paulo state.

Without work available in civil construction, he found himself out of a job. Two months ago, he started searching the landfill for materials to recycle. Since then, he's earned 2,000 reais ($500). He works at night, sifting through domestic garbage with a headlamp but without any protection for his hands. "It's slower with gloves," he says.

Peruíbe's landfill is just one example of Brazil's failure to deal with its garbage. The fence around it doesn't change the fact that the waste piles up under the open sky. It draws dozens of trash pickers, including children, who climb up and down the mountains of garbage. They all start work at around dusk, the only time when they can enter the site.

There is a stream just 500 meters away, threatened by the dregs created as trash decomposes, which penetrates the soil until it reaches ground water.

Working in a dump, living in a slum

Most of those who work here live in the neighborhood nearby. It's a depressing slum along the highway that increasing numbers of people are forced to call home. "I'd rather live here than in jail," says José Carlos Sena, a 39-year-old who's been working in Peruíbe's landfill for nine years. Like most houses in the area, his consists of material he collected in the dump. He sometimes even finds discarded food to eat.

According to Brazil's Environment Ministry, there are 3,000 landfills across the country and about 800,000 people who sort through garbage for a living. Almost half of Brazil's waste ends up in these dumps.

And yet, as another sign of the unfulfilled euphoria of the Lula years (2003-2010), a 2010 National Policy of Solid Waste planned for all landfills to disappear by August 2014. Brazil missed the target by a long shot.

"Even in 50 years, we might not be done with them," says Albino Rodrigues Alvarez, a scientist who led a waste study at the Institute of Applied Economic Research. "The plan was far too ambitious. Garbage is a civic challenge, and it's directly connected to education."

A good example of the issue's complexity is in the capital, Brasilia. The city boasts the highest income per capita in the country, yet the nearest dump, Lixão da Estrutural, is the largest in all of Latin America.

But despite the initial blatant failure, a new bill currently being reviewed by Congress would create a new deadline to eradicate landfills. For small cities, the new deadline would be 2021.

"If we couldn't solve the problem in the last five years, will we in the next five?" asks Ariovaldo Caodaglio, president of the São Paulo State Union of Urban Cleaning Companies. He says municipalities depend on federal cash to deal with the garbage crisis, but the current situation and the recession are likely to jeopardize these efforts.

Still, in a sad paradox, landfills offer a humble blessing for some families. After working in a landfill for years and then officially retiring, 65-year-old Aparecido Bonifacio continues to return to Peruíbe almost every night with his wife and daughter to sift through the trash for valuables. Together, they earn a modest living.

Support Worldcrunch
We are grateful for reader support to continue our unique mission of delivering in English the best international journalism, regardless of language or geography. Click here to contribute whatever you can. Merci!

Pro-life and Pro-abortion Rights Protests in Washington

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Håfa adai!*

Welcome to Thursday, where new Omicron findings arrive from South Africa, abortion rights are at risk at the U.S. Supreme Court and Tyrannosaurus rex has got some new competition. From Germany, we share the story of a landmark pharmacy turned sex toy museum.

[*Chamorro - Guam]

​✅ SIGN UP

This is our daily newsletter Worldcrunch Today, a rapid tour of the news of the day from the world's best journalism sources, regardless of language or geography.

It's easy (and free!) to sign up to receive it each day in your inbox: 👉 Sign up here

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• COVID update: South Africa reports a higher rate of reinfections from the Omicron variant than has been registered with the Beta and Delta variants, though researchers await further findings on the effects of the new strain. Meanwhile, the UK approves the use of a monoclonal therapy, known as sotrovimab, to treat those at high risk of developing severe COVID-19 symptoms.The approval comes as the British pharmaceutical company, GSK, separately announced the treatment has shown to “retain activity” against the Omicron variant. Down under, New Zealand’s reopening, slated for tomorrow is being criticized as posing risks to its under-vaccinated indigenous Maori.

• Supreme Court poised to gut abortion rights: The U.S. Supreme Court signaled a willingness to accept a Republican-backed Mississippi law that would bar abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, even in cases of rape or incest. A ruling, expected in June, may see millions of women lose abortion access, 50 years after it was recognized as a constitutional right in the landmark Roe v. Wade case.

• Macri charged in Argentine spying case: Argentina’s former president Mauricio Macri has been charged with ordering the secret services to spy on the family members of 44 sailors who died in a navy submarine sinking in 2017. The charge carries a sentence of three to ten years in prison. Macri, now an opposition leader, says the charges are politically motivated.

• WTA suspends China tournaments over Peng Shuai: The Women's Tennis Association (WTA) announced the immediate suspension of all tournaments in China due to concerns about the well-being of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, and the safety of other players. Peng disappeared from public view after accusing a top Chinese official of sexual assault.

• Michigan school shooting suspect to be charged as an adult: The 15-year-old student accused of killing four of his classmates and wounding seven other people in a Michigan High School will face charges of terrorism and first-degree murder. Authorities say the suspect had described wanting to attack the school in cellphone videos and a journal.

• Turkey replaces finance minister amid economic turmoil: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan appointed a strong supporter of his low-interest rate drive, Nureddin Nebati, as Turkey’s new finance minister.

• A battle axe for a tail: Chilean researchers announced the discovery of a newly identified dinosaur species with a completely unique feature from any other creatures that lived at that time: a flat, weaponized tail resembling a battle axe.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

South Korean daily Joong-ang Ilbo reports on the discovery of five Omicron cases in South Korea. The Asian nation has broken its daily record for overall coronavirus infections for a second day in a row with more than 5,200 new cases. The variant cases were linked to arrivals from Nigeria and prompted the government to tighten border controls.


#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

¥10,000

In the northeastern Chinese city of Harbin, a reward of 10,000 yuan ($1,570) will be given to anyone who volunteers to take a COVID-19 test and get a positive result, local authorities announced on Thursday on the social network app WeChat.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Why an iconic pharmacy is turning into a sex toy museum

The "New Pharmacy" was famous throughout the St. Pauli district of Hamburg for its history and its long-serving owner. Now the owner’s daughter is transforming it into a museum dedicated to the history of sex toys, linking it with the past "curing" purpose of the shop, reports Eva Eusterhus in German daily Die Welt.

💊 The story begins in autumn 2018, when 83-year-old Regis Genger stood at the counter of her pharmacy and realized that the time had come for her to retire. At least that is the first thing her daughter Anna Genger tells us when we meet, describing the turning point that has also shaped her life and that of her business partner Bianca Müllner. The two women want to create something new here, something that reflects the pharmacy's history and Hamburg's eclectic St. Pauli quarter (it houses both a red light district and the iconic Reeperbahn entertainment area) as well as their own interests.

🚨 Over the last few months, the pharmacy has been transformed into L'Apotheque, a venture that brings together art and business in St. Pauli's red light district. The back rooms will be used for art exhibitions, while the old pharmacy space will house a museum dedicated to the history of sex toys. Genger and Müllner want to show that desire has always existed and that people have always found inventive ways of maximizing pleasure, even in times when self-gratification was seen as unnatural and immoral, as a cause of deformities.

🏩 Genger and Müllner want the museum to show how the history of desire has changed over time. The art exhibitions, which will also center on the themes of physicality and sexuality, are intended to complement the exhibits. They are planning to put on window displays to give passers-by a taste of what is to come, for example, British artist Bronwen Parker-Rhodes's film Lovers, which offers a portrait of sex workers during lockdown.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

I would never point a gun at anyone and pull a trigger at them. Never.

— U.S. actor Alec Baldwin spoke to ABC News, his first interview since the accident that killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the movie Rust last October. The actor said that although he was holding the gun he didn’t pull the trigger, adding that the bullet “wasn't even supposed to be on the property.”

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet and Jane Herbelin

Keep reading... Show less
Support Worldcrunch
We are grateful for reader support to continue our unique mission of delivering in English the best international journalism, regardless of language or geography. Click here to contribute whatever you can. Merci!
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS
MOST READ