By Fabio Rezende, Winter Work & Travel Participant and Greenheart Club member

Fabio is a Work & Travel participant from Brazil who works as a lifeguard for Winkler Pool Management in the Washington DC area. Below Fabio reflects on similarities and differences of environmental practices in his home country in comparison to Washington DC for the Greenheart Club.

Fabio in front of the White House

The amount of trash that a single person generates each day, each time increases more. Although it is a quick and easy task to throw our garbage at the disposal places, sometimes, we don’t actually see, where this trash (and the entire amount that we produce outside our houses) goes to, and how much we actually generate.

Last July, I had a great experience through the north of Brazil with my classmates. I visited a small poor city in the amazon forest called Pracuuba. I could see that the city, one of the last cities in the rainforest of Brazil had all kinds of problems. One of their biggest ones was the trash and no way to dispose of it. From a city that is separated from a river one side, and the great Amazon Forest at the other side, where could they of dispose it? Before our arrival, we noticed that all the trash was being thrown at open areas camps. The trash would stay there before being buried or burnt. Our action group was formed by students of biology, nutrition, theater, law, and my major civil engineering.  As we received the community’s issues, we divide it among us and each one was responsible for solving one problem. I got the trash one. After spending some days at the city, we could see how deep the problem was, trash bags all over the forest area, on the riverside, and even in the houses’ backyards. Also there was no understanding of the danger to their health. As the days were passing, the city was teaching us a lot of things, and we had to do something to help them. Our solution had to be flexible, not only we should get a solution for the trash, but also make a change of their habits. So the key for the problem was right there, the kids, the small ones, we should start with them.

Our strategy was very simple; we asked the kids to retrieve all aluminum cans, and plastic bottles. Also they were told to save the used cooking oil for a “secret recipe”. So at the schools, the students were told to bring their plastic bottles and aluminum cans. After a period of time, we were able not only to transform the trash into toys, but also to teach them how to make the toys and to share with their friends. With the used oil, it was time to teach something to the parents. Using some ingredients  such as caustic soda and some perfumes we were able to transform the oil into soap. That was a major accomplishment.  Many of the people used to spend their money on soap, and were also throwing away a lot of oil. Additionally, around the town we  created “eco-points” were the citizens could dispose their garbage properly and separate recycling. With these small things, we were able to reduce a HUGE amount of trash that was being produced, and also we were able to create toys and soap for them. It was a great experience.

After this project in my home country Brazil, I received  an even bigger challenge of working in the USA. Thanks to CCI, my experience in the USA is happening in the best way possible.  A few weeks after my arrival, making the inevitable comparisons among every single thing here to my country, I was able to produce this report. This report contains some observations and suggestions for improvements among our community. First of all, after I got to the USA, there was a huge change of lifestyle from our homes, cooking, cleaning, and buying food. Washing clothes was something that although I knew how to do I wasn’t used to do back in Brazil. The reason I didn’t wash clothes back in Brazil is that hand-labor is not so valued as it is here in the USA.

I am living in the Washington DC area that is covered by a Metro Rail System, so you can easily make your way through the tracks and the buses around the area. The Metro can completely substitute the use of a car. Also, there are even Hybrid Taxi car’s  so you can even have a green ride even if you take a car. Also, there are spots all over Washington DC called, “Capital Bike Share” where you can rent bikes for a cheap price 365 days a year. The best part is these bikes can be returned at ANY “bike share” spot.

Bikes from the Bike Share in DC

The water and the wastewater from the area of DC,  parts of Maryland and Virginia is managed by the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority. One of the top goals of this organization is to protect the water quality of the Potomac river.  The Sewer Authority additionally works towards this goal with frequent Environmental Education sessions among the community.

Potomac River

Potomac River

 

On the garbage separation issue, I could see good, and bad points. On one hand, every place that holds a large amount of people usually has special places for bottles. On the other hand, the separation of  recyclables  from plastic, aluminum, paper and metal, is not so common among the DC community. But there are a few points where those items can be dropped for recycling, usually grocery stores and markets.

The Fashion Centre in Pentagon City has recharge stations for electrical cars in their parking lots. Another governmental initiative is the HOV lanes for people who carpool. These lanes provide a significant gain of time, and reduction of pollution and traffic.

Electric Car recharge stations

Although in my country, Brazil, we are one if not the champion among recycling aluminum cans, we still have much to learn from other countries. As our public transportation is mostly based on buses that could be  improved to use less pollutant fuel, also the wastewater treatment and collection is something that is not avaible for everyone the country. Due to high taxes, unfortunely hybrid cars today are not a reality in Brazil. As a students being able to see, live, and learn  about green solutions in another country is a great experience. We as students must improve and implement those good ideas. Thanks to Greenheart I was able to look through another point of view of this country. Now is the time to work some more! Coming back to my experience in the North of Brazil, I know exactly where to start my following projects, with the children of my country!