BRASÍLIA — Brazil has suffered incredible environmental degradation at the hands of both domestic and multinational companies. With a poverty rate of 25-percent and an estimated 150,000 tons of waste produced per day, some of the burden of pollution in Brazil falls to the poor, and the rest impacts economic development and quality of life wherever the environmental degradation occurs.
Mining Pollution in Brazil
Brazil has endured a series of mining disasters over the past decade that has resulted in chronic pollution of popular tourist locations. The worst happened in November of 2015 when the failure of a dam in Regencia released millions of liters of mining waste. The waste flowed into Mariana, the oldest city in the state of Minas Gerais and a popular tourist city, and ruined picturesque farmland, villages and rivers. On top of the loss of homes, the contaminated waste from both dam failures poisoned farmland and fish, ruining the livelihoods of hundreds.
Samarco, the company who owned this dam, was a joint venture between Vale and BHP Billiton. Vale was involved in another dam disaster in January of 2019 in Brumadinho, also in Minas Gerais, less than four years since the dam collapse in Mariana.
Vale is accused of negligence regarding the two dam collapses. The first disaster, the Mariana dam disaster, is expected to take ten years to clean, and Vale has agreed to pay to rehabilitate 5,000 streams and reforest about 32,000 acres of land.
The community, however, feels the company is more focused on restructuring and reopening the dam than remedying the damage it has done to their environment and community. Greenpeace blames Vale’s ‘corporate greed’ for the Mariana dam disaster and has called Vale to take action after this most reason dam failure.
Plastic Pollution in Brazil
In Recife, a municipality in northeast Brazil, rising sea levels caused by climate change already leave villages located by rivers susceptible to floods. Plastic waste increases the severity of these floods by clogging tributaries, stopping the flow of water and giving it nowhere to go but up. Motivated to reduce the impact of these floods, villagers living along the Tejipio River have taken it upon themselves to clear the river of waste.
Villagers along the Tejipio River collect plastic from the river and sell to a litter collector for about a penny a bottle, which, in a country like Brazil where the minimum wage is just ten dollars a day, makes a difference to a family living in poverty.
However, the impact of the floods negates any benefit that comes with increased income from plastic bottles. The floods carry with them diseases that sicken children, and often the floods destroy everything some Recife residents own, sometimes as many as nine times a year. Many of these people are trapped in this cycle, as they often do not have the money to move elsewhere. Pollution in Brazil exacerbates poverty in this region, forcing families to start over after every flood.
Many residents blame multinational companies for their waste problem, saying they feel abandoned by companies like Coca-Cola, whose plastic bottles fill the Tejipio River. In North and South America, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Nestle are responsible for 70-percent of all branded plastic pollution. Residents along the Tejipio River feel that lucrative multinationals like these should take responsibility by funding cleaning efforts and organizing systems to collect the waste generated by their products.
Water Pollution in Brazil
While tourism is a growing industry in Brazil, companies pollute the picturesque oceans and beaches that entice tourists to Brazil, putting the industry at risk. One surprising consequence of water pollution in Brazil is an increase in shark attacks along popular beaches in Recife. Before the 1990s, there were no reported shark attacks in Recife; between 1992 and 2012, there were 56 shark attacks. Twenty-one of the attacks, about 37-percent, were fatal. This staggering fact is more than twice the global average, which sits at 16-percent.
The construction of Port Suape in 1992, only a 50-minute drive from popular beach spot Boa Viagem, is thought to be the cause. The construction of the port interrupted the hunting and breeding patterns of bull sharks, forcing them to move closer to Recife. The increase in ship traffic towards Recife to Port Suape attracted Tiger sharks, who follow ships for the waste thrown overboard. Bull sharks and Tiger sharks, two of the more aggressive species, are now seemingly permanent residents of Boa Viagem beach.
In addition to the steps already taken to remedy problems stemming from corporate pollution in Brazil, there are several organizations working in Brazil to reduce the impact of pollution. Greenpeace is currently protesting to suspend the operation of the dams at Mariana and Brumadinho until the safety of the surrounding environment and community is guaranteed. If companies and organizations can work together, the clean-up of Brazil and the world would be monumental.