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Feb 17, 2015 11:58 AM

Rio samba school goes green in reused, recycled costumes

The Associated Press

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) With their formations of spandex-clad samba dancers, fruit-topped drummers in Carmen Miranda headgear and legions of ladies swathed in reams of lace, the Petizes da Penha samba group is almost indistinguishable from the others parading down Rio de Janeiro's Sambadrome in zany, over-the-top costumes.

Except that Penha's costumes are made entirely from reused and recycled materials from pirated CDs confiscated by customs inspectors to cardboard boxes rescued from supermarkets to lots and lots of plastic soft drink bottles, as well as fabric scraps donated by top fashion labels.

Waste is a perennial problem at Carnival, among the most ephemeral of celebrations. Months of painstaking work go into confecting the costumes that light up Rio's Sambadrome during each samba group's 82-minute-long parade. But most of the outfits are discarded as soon as the dancers and musicians hit the end of the parade route, forming giant piles of trash that garbage collectors feed into their trucks and cart off to area landfills.

Organizers say Petizes da Penha, one of 16 children's samba schools competing for this year's kid's title, is the first to hit the problem head-on, by fielding costumes made entirely from recycled materials.

Some 2,000 tons of would-be or has-been trash went into costumes for the 1,200 members of the school, which is just for kids and teens and based in the lower working-class neighborhood of Penha. Professors and students from Rio state's EcoModa program, which teaches residents from 14 slums how to sew using donated and recuperated materials, worked for months to furiously stitch, cut, embellish and sew the costumes together, said the project's director, Almir Franca.

"It was like the opposite of putting together a regular Carnival parade, where you pick the theme and then create the costumes to go with the theme," he said, projecting his voice over the buzz of sewing machines at the group's headquarters in the Mangueira slum. "Here we had to think, 'what are the kinds of trash this city produces?' And then, 'what can we do with that trash, what theme can we develop?'"

Tin cans and beer bottles were out, he said, because many poor people in Rio scrape together a living by collecting those valuable recyclables. Ditto cardboard boxes, which are coveted by recycling cooperatives that regularly have deals with supermarkets to pick up huge bundles of flattened containers. The group had to stake out dozens of supermarkets and beg the managers to set aside some un-squashed boxes for them, said Franca.

Plastic soft drink bottles, on the other hand, are in abundant supply in this thirsty, subtropical city, and everyone involved in the project put out the word among friends and neighbors that they were collecting them. EcoModa soon was inundated with empty bottles which, cleaned, stripped of their labels and glued with a cornucopia of fruits, have become the bases of the school's ornate headwear. Other headpieces are made from old newspaper rolled into straw-like tubes. Hundreds of CDs, some of the 2,000,000 pirated discs confiscated by the police at Rio's international airport and donated to EcoModa, dangle from the samba dancers' slinky spandex cat suits like oversized sequins. Plastic tableware is attached to the hemlines of bouffant skirts to build extra volume.

"We're known here as the place to bring all your recyclables and people from the community come bring us the household trash they know we can use," said Franca, adding that EcoModa would have people on hand following the Sambadrome parade to pick up all the school's discarded costumes with an eye to stripping them down and reusing their components again.

"We're hoping this idea is going to catch on," said Franca, with a wink. "Next year we want to be ready to take on a big-league samba school."


Follow Jenny Barchfield on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jennybarchfield


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