Haus Schwatz: Cati's DC Real Estate


The Architectural Demands Of Trash


The lines between trash and recyclables are blurry and a favorite source of arguments, at least in our house.   We've never gotten straight answers on issues like cardboard packaging with glossy outside layers (does it go in the paper can or not?), broken glass (with the bottles or the trash?), or plastic toys.

The Germans, however, seem to have got this down.  The city of Berlin, for instance (where I arrived a couple of days ago), mandates everybody to sort their trash into 6 categories, and with great educational effort, the government makes sure every trash-producing citizen gets it.   

Accordingly, the trash cans you can buy in the stores here have partitions.  And most people seem to religiously follow the rules.  In many places, this has created new architectural demands as well. 


A few years ago, my mom and stepdad moved into a beautifully renovated apartment in a 1920s/1930s Bauhaus development in Berlin, Germany).  Historic conservation law made it impossible to create suitable garbage rooms inside the buildings.  The large, restored courtyard, a park-like oasis with lawns, benches and playgrounds, had the space. 

Now you find a huge cage thing, all grown over with pretty vines, in the middle of the yard. You can only get in there with keys (!), and inside, there are color-coded receptacles complete with instructions.  I've observed people leave their building with several little bags, enter the green sanctuary, and then calmly sort through their offerings.

It was admirable.  But then I tried to imagine this in a Washington, DC, apartment building.  From luxury condos to housing projects, I dare say, the method wouldn't work.

I remember how 20 years ago our friend Marc Fisher, then the Washington Post's Berlin bureau chief, was traumatized by the elderly guy in his apartment building who made sure nobody contaminated one category with items from the others (if Marc or his family dared sticking a bottle in the trash, they'd have to fear for their life).  How much easier his life would have been if they'd already had those wonderful category posters back then.

© 2012, Catarina Bannier


Comment balloon 5 commentsCatarina Bannier • August 01 2010 07:59AM


Hi Catarina, Great post!  Thanks for the information and excellent photos to match, I will pass it on.

Posted by Dan Edward Phillips, Realtor and Broker/Owner (Dan Edward Phillips) almost 9 years ago

Thanks, Dan.  All the major brands of soda, beer and juice come in refundable bottles, too.  (That's a lot easier to enforce--everybody wants their money back, right?)

Posted by Catarina Bannier, DC Real Estate The Smart And Fun Way (Compass) almost 9 years ago

Cati, this is hilarious!  One of my neighbors just read me the list of what does and does not go into the recycling bin.  I was stunned!

Posted by Patricia Kennedy, Home in the Capital (RLAH Real Estate) almost 9 years ago

Isn't it?  And the color coded cans are in every yard, in all shapes and sizes.  My friend who just came back from the Rhineland last night told me they actually have one more category (brown glass) over there!

Posted by Catarina Bannier, DC Real Estate The Smart And Fun Way (Compass) almost 9 years ago

Yup- not so sure this would work well with Washingtonians.  Great post.  Hope you're having fun.  -Marcie 

Posted by Marcie Sandalow, Bethesda Chevy Chase DC real estate (Marcie Sandalow, Compass 301.758.4894 ) almost 9 years ago