Brazil's 2013 Carnival may have rocked ... but parts also stank.

The amount of trash collected during this year's blocos, or street parties, grew 30 percent from last year – and tourists noticed, with 1 out of 4 citing sanitation as a negative of their Rio Carnival experience.

Silvia Izquierdo/AP
A performer from the Sao Clemente samba school is tossed in the air during carnival celebrations at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro, last week.

A version of this post ran on the author's blog, The views expressed are the author's own.

City officials usually announce the number of revelers just after Ash Wednesday, but [there were no results announced until Feb. 19]. A mere 900,000 tourists (up from 850,000 in 2012) were expected, 70,000 of whom were to arrive on cruise ships.

One bloco alone, Cordão da Bola Preta, Rio’s oldest, on Saturday drew an estimated 1.8 million people downtown for a five-hour parade, which resulted in chaos at its completion.

There were more military police, traffic coordinators and municipal guards in the streets, more porta-potties, and more trash receptacles than ever before. The city also, for the first time, put up protective fencing around monuments and decorative plantings on median strips.

Most of such organizing this year, including sponsorship negotiations, was carried out by Dream Factory, an events company that will also set up the Pope’s visit and accompanying activities this coming July. Dream Factory is run by Roberta Medina, daughter of the adman who invented the Rock in Rio festival, back in the 1980s. Two years ago, Dream Factory partnered with the Lausanne-based TSE international sports consultancy outfit.

Dream Factory seems to have thought of just about everything. But Brasília’s unplanned satellite cities came to mind, as dozens of poor families moved temporarily to the South Zone to supply the revelers, sleeping in tents or on cardboard on the beach, median strips, and city sidewalks. A municipal guard told RioRealblog that the city social development secretariat, responsible for those living on the street, wasn’t working during carnival– though O Dia newspaper reported that 93 people were in fact picked up.

The Rio metro, a state concession, ran 24 hours a day instead of closing at midnight, but was unable to handle peak traffic, shutting down station entrances and reportedly removing fire extinguishers from trains to prevent vandalism. Riding a bus any day in Rio is a percussive experience, but this can be terrifying during Carnival, with chanting costumed drunks beating on the bus body, jumping turnstiles, and threatening passengers.

Never enough

And Comlurb, the city sanitation company, admitted that it sorely underestimated what people decided to discard – and thus, the number of needed trash collectors, which came to 1,070 men and women.

Urban sanitation was mentioned as a negative aspect of the Rio Carnival experience by one out of four tourists, in a survey of 1,200 carried out by the Consultoria em Turismo e Fundação Cesgranrio. Other complaints included hotel rates (38 percent) and taxis (18 percent). Notably, 75 percent of those interviewed were here for the first time. They were kept company by Kim Kardashian, Kanye West, and Will Smith; Harrison Ford and family showed up last weekend for the parade of champions and a visit to a pacified favela.

Rio enjoys a certain elasticity. Tourists grapple with ATM machines, are shocked by how few people speak English, get ripped off by taxi drivers, suffer abominable restaurant service, and cell phone hardships – and immediately make plans to move here. Actors Monica Bellucci and Vincent Cassel are just two of the most recent arrivals.

Meanwhile, longtime residents of areas where the blocos parade find little consolation in rubbing shoulders with the fancy newcomers, or in the news that police arrested more than 800 mijões, or pee-ers. For them, even one mijão is one too stinking many.

Incipient recycling 

Informal recyclers – some of whom are the people who stay overnight on the beach – quickly pick up the aluminum cans and smash them for selling. But – note to Ambev – that still leaves the plastic wrapping and the cans .... plus all kinds of other trash.

By last Thursday, this totaled 400 tons. Multiply by three, and you get the weight of Rio’s Christ Redeemer statue. Another 170 tons were collected in the weekend prior to Carnival, and more is sure to have piled up last weekend, also part of the bloco calendarwhen the Carnival parade of champions took place.

In the case of the estimated 500 bloco parades in different parts of the city every day of Carnival 2013, almost 30 percent more trash was collected than last year, when about five million people reveled in Rio (up from a mere 1.2 million in 2011). If per capita trash production remained the same from 2012, that means 6.5 million were thankful it didn’t rain last week – though a nice shower might have mitigated the heat – and the stench.

The cans are mostly beer empties, from the Ambev conglomerate that sponsored Rio’s street Carnival (and just bought Heinz, together with Warren Buffet)....

Trash cans on wheels, next year

According to O Globo newspaper, Comlurb plans to seek partnerships with sponsors and blocos to grow its orange army, and invest in mechanization.

The city says the street carnival sponsorship mechanism, which this year brought in $7.5 million, helps to pay for porta-potties and traffic coordinators, plus vendor licensing and uniforms.  Riotur president Antonio Pedro Figueira de Mello says the city “saved” this amount, by having Ambev and other companies chip in.

But what they don’t seem to realize is that the more beer you sell, the more bathrooms you need, so the sponsorships can actually be said to add to the city’s costs. And these are likely to rise every year, as more and more people discover the city’s charms – as long as that elasticity keeps on stretching.

– Julia Michaels, a long-time resident of Brazil, writes the blog Rio Real, which she describes as a constructive and critical view of Rio de Janeiro’s ongoing transformation.

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