Constant Large-Scale Events Keep Brazilian Portable Restroom Operators Busy

When the whole nation is shut down so everyone can party in the streets, it’s time for Brazil’s ECOTEC to clean up.
Constant Large-Scale Events Keep Brazilian Portable Restroom Operators Busy
Revelers participate in one of many Carnival parades throughout Brazil.

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Roberto Zeitlin is the founder of ECOTEC Tecnologia Ecologica Ltda, headquartered in Americana, Brazil, in the state of São Paulo. The company also has three satellite locations in São Paulo – Bauru, Jacarei and Ribeirão Preto (a storage yard) – and has recently opened up an office in Rio de Janeiro.

The carefully screened staff – Zeitlin calls them “collaborators”– numbers 62, all of whom were on hand for Carnival, the company’s largest event, along with 10 freelancers.


Zeitlin’s first exposure to portable restrooms was when he lived in the United States for a few years as a child in the early 1970s while his father worked on his Ph.D. at Stanford University. Then in the early ‘90s, he did some selling for a friend who started a portable restroom business in Brazil.

After about eight years, the friend tired of the grueling schedule. “I have no holidays, no Sundays,” he complained. “Tell me the day you don’t use a sanitary installation and I’ll tell you the day I have a holiday.” In 1998, Zeitlin bought him out and began learning everything he could about the industry. His knowledge base took a leap forward when he followed the advice of a representative from Satellite Industries who told him to go to the Pumper & Cleaner Environmental Expo International. He’s missed only once since.

Today, the company has shareholders and a board of directors, but maintains its original mission of social and environmental responsibility to its workers and the country. They provide services throughout the 96,000-square-mile state of São Paulo, one of Brazil’s 26 states. About 65 percent of their 1,500 units are on construction sites, as the country has a huge infrastructure build going on for upcoming international events.


Carnival is celebrated all over the world, but nowhere more enthusiastically than in Brazil. The entire country shuts down for the festival so its 200 million residents can have a last fling before facing the more solemn days of Lent, the 40-day period before Easter. “The only people who work are those that supply the events,” Zeitlin says.

Non-stop festivities include samba-school parades with fantastical floats built by armies of people, extravagant and outrageous costumes, masquerade balls and wild street parties. It’s all about music and dancing.

In 2013, Carnival ran from Feb. 8-12. Its origins in Brazil are said to date back to at least the mid-1600s.


It’s not hard to find work during Carnival. With millions of people in the streets each day, demand far outweighs supply. Every available portable restroom in the country was utilized. ECOTEC only had to pick and choose which events they could reasonably service.

Clients included private parties as well as municipalities. For the better jobs, ECOTEC had to bid for the work. But they always stand firm on their rates, Zeitlin says. “We don’t sell price, we sell service. And we charge for that.” In one case, the company lost the bid, having come in fifth on pricing, but when the other companies were found to have incomplete paperwork, ECOTEC won out after all.


All of the company’s units not tied up on construction sites were deployed to Rio and 23 cities in São Paulo state – 600 green-aqua standard units, 28 wheelchair-accessible units and 16 hand-wash stations, all from Satellite Industries (Tufway models) and PolyJohn Enterprises (PJN3 models).

Each city needed between four and 50 units. They were usually placed in single banks along streets, in parking lots and in special events areas. As one example, in Rio de Janeiro, the company set up 50 units in a parking lot at Marina-Gloria for an event along the waterfront.


During the three days leading up to Carnival, teams fanned out to all parts of the state to deliver units using its fleet of 16 service vehicles, six Volkswagen and Ford pickup trucks and 12 locally built trailers of varying sizes. Some units were moved around during the event, depending on need.

Traffic was a good news/bad news story. Before the event, major streets were closed to the public, giving authorized service providers easy access. But once the event began, those same streets were clogged with people so servicing units was much harder. The company had worked out detailed plans with local authorities in each city weeks in advance. “You must have it all in place by then because when it starts, it’s too late,” Zeitlin says.


Using all of ECOTEC’s vacuum trucks, the crew worked around the clock for four days, cleaning all units every day, sometimes twice where conditions warranted. The company has a variety of service vehicles, from the smallest with a 3,000-liter (792 gallons) tank with 1,500 liters (396 gallons) waste, 1,000 liters (264 gallons) deodorizer, 500 liters (132 gallons) freshwater to the largest at 7,000 liters (1,849 gallons) with 4,500 liters (1,188 gallons) waste, 1,500 liters deodorizer, and 1,000 liters freshwater. All tanks are steel. Vehicles and pumps were built out by local companies on Fords, Volkswagens, Kias and Hyundais. Deodorizers and cleaning products are from Satellite, PolyJohn and PolyPortables Inc.

With 24-hour partying, massive crowds and event organizers who were not always willing to pay for sufficient service, portable restrooms filled up quickly. But ECOTEC, with its logo on every panel of its units, had its reputation to consider, so they sometimes took matters into their own hands. “We have to keep the image of the company,” Zeitlin says. “Then you have to deal later with the client. You tell them, ‘You hired less toilets than you needed and they overloaded. We came in to service them so you could keep the party going.’ ”

Waste was taken to municipal wastewater treatment plants, with paperwork signed off by the customer, ECOTEC and the treatment plant.


Portable sanitation issues will continue to challenge Brazil as it prepares to host several international events in the next two years. In June, it’s the FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013 soccer tournament, followed a year later by the larger FIFA World Cup. In July, an estimated 2.5 million people are expected to attend a mass celebrated by Pope Francis as part of World Youth Day. And then, of course, there’s the Olympics in 2016.

Zeitlin and other portable restroom operators are gearing up but there’s only so much they can do from a practical standpoint. “If I bought 20,000 toilets, what would I do with them the rest of the year?” Zeitlin says. But Brazilians like to say they never give up. “We’ll try to solve it,” he says. “But I’m not God.”


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