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We have a weekly rubbish collection, most people have their rubbish collected from the front of their homes, for those who don’t (because it is not possible for the vehicle to pass their house) there is only ever a short walk to where the rubbish can be left for collection. Despite this, some people prefer to bury it in their own garden,  dump it on a piece of land close to their own homes or way out on the dunes, or throw it in the sea.

Having been brought up to try not to create rubbish, to always take my rubbish home with me, dispose of it correctly, recycle, reuse and compost, I find the lack of concern about the amount of rubbish and its disposal distressing.

At every community meeting I would express my opinion about the rubbish, stressing that as well as being a health risk and bad for the environment, the rubbish is also bad for the reputation of the village. We are so dependant on the income from tourism, and most tourists (well at least those from Europe) don’t wish to see rubbish all over the place and are shocked by it.

For some months now, I have been asking various prominent members of the Village Association, to help me organise a clean up, all to no avail. I started to remove some of the rubbish I found while out walking my dogs. mostly plastic and glass bottles but also food packets and plastic bags but unfortunately the rubbish dumps I have found on the dunes are too much for me to deal with on my own.  I hoped that maybe by me starting to remove the rubbish, others would begin to help, I had to do something and it was more urgent with the coming of the rainy season.

The community health care workers known as Agents de Saude called a meeting of community leaders to discuss the problem of rubbish and asked me to attend.

One of the agents told of the frustration they feel, and their justified fears about the continued dumping of rubbish in and around the village, increasing the risk of contracting  Leptospirosis (carried by rats and excreted in their urine.) or Dengue fever (carried by mosquitoes) which is another potentially life threatening illness.

There haven’t been any cases of Dengue in the village yet, but last year in most of the major cities of Brazil, there were epidemics which resulted in a large numbers of deaths.

The mosquito likes clean water in which to breed, but is not fussy about what the water is in. Old bottles, coconut shells, plastic bags, yogurt pots, egg shells, swimming pools, water tanks, discarded car tyres, anything that is open and will hold water is a potential breeding ground. Rubbish tips are a prime site for both the Dengue mosquito and rats.

The Dengue mosquito was found in the village for the first time last year, non were found to be infected (the mosquito has to bite someone already infected, they then pass the infection on to anyone they bite after) but it is only a matter of time.

Obviously, by removing breeding sites we greatly reduce the risk to our selves, yet some people seem unconcerned.

The agents asked  the community leaders to accompany them on a village clean up, for them to see how bad the problem is and to talk to the villagers about their responsibilities, and the health risks.

Some of the people present said they thought this approach a waste of time, there were calls for those dumping rubbish to be denounced to the authorities. The agents pointed out that it is difficult to denounce someone with out proof, most rubbish gets dumped late at night or in the early hours.

I was asked if there was anything I would like to say, I hoped the group would understand my far from perfect Portuguese. I told them of my daily walks on the dunes with my dogs, of the rubbish tips I have found and how I have repeatedly asked for help in clearing them.  I get the impression that many people think they will stop dumping rubbish when other people stop, they will help clean up when other people help. I suggested that we have a concerted clean up and then the village association pays for someone to keep it clean.

There was a general agreement that this should happen, but at a previous meeting the various groups (Association, Tourism, Fishing) were in dispute over who should cover the cost of a cleaner. This is mad as each group has a burden of responsibility for the creation of the problem, villagers, tourists and fishermen all throw rubbish, and all would benefit from the rubbish being removed, but in the long run we need to find a way to stop the rubbish being created in the first place.

My husband told me that I was the first person to properly explain to him why rubbish is a problem, the chain of pollution that leads back to us and ultimately pollutes our food and water supply. Previously, he thought as the wind blows the rubbish away or the sea takes it away, where’s the problem?

If I scooped up water from a rubbish dump, no one would drink it, yet that rubbish is leaching down into our water supply, quite a few people at the meeting looked revolted by that thought. I asked if we could do some more work on educating the villagers, and suggested that they are so used to seeing rubbish they are unaffected by it, we need to change their perception of it, get them to see it as many tourists do, as an eye sore as well as a threat to health.

As a last word I said this problem cannot wait for any more meetings, we just have to get on and do something, it isn’t difficult to pick up some rubbish, we just have to start. If each of us gave a bit of time and found some others to join us, very soon we could make a huge difference. Other people in the meeting said they agreed with me, that what I had said was right, I was immensely pleased to hear that, if only because I don’t like telling people here what I think they should do, no one forced me to come and live here after all.

The day after that meeting I went with my daughter, to help the agents on the clean up. Aside from the three agents only one other man Ze Wilson, who was present at the meeting came to help. The six of us filled at least twenty bin bags with rubbish from a revolting tip behind some houses, everyone we spoke to denied they ever threw rubbish there.

The following day Ze Wilson organised another group to clean up the beach, they took away a cart load of rubbish from there (well it is a big beach).

The following Wednesday I went with my daughter, husband, sister in law and a friend out on the dunes and cleaned up nappies, water bottles and beer cans amongst other things, filling a further twenty sacks.

Last week a group of twenty helped to clear and fill in with sand, a lagoon that had formed in the centre of the village. The Dengue mosquito larvae was also found at this site.

Yesterday I took the agents to the remaining rubbish sites that I have found. One of the agents said that without me informing them, they would never have known of these sites as they are out of sight on the dunes.

With the help of my daughter and husband, we cleared one site, did our best with another that is now in an area flooded by rain water, and then moved onto the third. At this site the rain that had been threatening, came down in buckets. We worked on, soaked to the skin until we ran out of rubbish sacks. At this site alone we filled 35 bags of rubbish and 3 big sacks of coconut shells. From the contents of  this rubbish site, the agents could identify it as having come from a guesthouse and one or more of  the beach front bars, yet the rubbish depot is right behind this illegal dump,  as the depot is on the road, it would have been easier to access.

We were unable to clear the last site, so having removed all exposed possible water containers, we decided to leave the remaining pile,  to return after a few days of dry weather to clear the rest. We managed to get the head of the Association to come and see what we had done, he was shocked. Maybe now he understands why I was asking him for help before.

In a few days Ze Wilson is organising a second clean up of the beach, to clear the rubbish from further away from the village, and although we know there are other sites yet to be dealt with, Canto Verde is beginning to look how it always should, a beautiful, clean paradise.

©Claire Pattison Valente 2009