Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Trash Out the Window: Rio de Janeiro's Nasty Little Habit

There is nothing nastier than finding someone else's trash on your balcony, windowsill, or blown into your apartment.  That goes double for cigarette butts, tampons, and other nasty little items. 

Oh yes, back in the day I had an apartment with a non-covered balcony and we got presents from the trash fairy on a daily basis.  

Here in Rio de Janeiro, people just throw shit out their windows. I have no idea why but they do! It's an amazing phenomenon that happens even more so out of the service area windows which, coincidentally, is where the trash can is normally kept. Not that it really matters in this country. There are very few people who have to walk all the way over to the west wing of their mansion to throw something away. 

They just don't do it, and the worst thing they throw are lit cigarette butts. Seriously, not only can a person not keep an ashtray or walk their butts to the trash, they have to throw it out a window still burning.  Somehow they do not see the danger in throwing an item that is on fire into a random area.

I personally have had numerous bad experiences where neighbors in my old building would throw lit cigarettes down into the common garden area. My newborn was almost hit with one when we were out getting his morning sun.  Needless to say, the building got an earful of my pissed of Portuguese grammar. 

It can get even worse. A neighbor of a friend of mine threw a lit cigarette out the window and lit the side of the building and two cars on fire. Classy. Let me explain a bit better. The building has a netting covering the entire outside because of construction being done. A very sharp and wise person threw a lit cigarette out of the window anyway. The netting caught on fire and then spread to the cars. Since the cars were parked illegally, and their insurance won't cover it, the owners are now suing the building.

All this because someone could snuff their smoke out and walk it to the trash.  

And it's not just cigarettes.  I have seen candy wrappers, personal notes, empty toothpaste tubes, dirty diapers, and used tampons/pads. Not only have I seen this done, I also had the lovely personal experience of cleaning these things off the balcony in my old building. Needless to say, they were not pleased when I taped all of the above to a piece of cardboard and mounted it in the elevator. 

I don't know why I can't seem to make friends with people in buildings where I live...

Anyway, I'm just here to say I don't get it. I don't get not throwing your crap away. Then again, when I lived with my brother-in-law he used to put his trash on the kitchen table instead of in the trash. The kitchen table that was literally 2.5 feet from the trashcan. It's inexplicable! 

It makes me think that this is a cultural phenomenon. But how on Earth did it get started? While I know that the city of Rio de Janeiro only started to really take care of the street trash issue about 10 years ago, why is it taking so long to clean up this nasty habit? 

What do you guys think? Is this all over Brazil or just in Rio de Janeiro? How do you think a habit like this gets started in the first place? 


  1. That's mostly a cultural issue in Rio and in the northern states in general. I don't see this happenening much in Paraná, Santa Catarina, Rio Grande do Sul.
    I am a carioca that left Rio ten years ago, i know how cariocas tend to treat Rio as a trash can.

  2. It's such a sad thing to do to such a pretty place!

  3. Cultural? I think it's education-related, regardless of culture.

    The teenager upstairs often tosses his cigarette butts out the window. One started a fire in our laundry area. We has a serious discussion with him, his other and his grandmother (all who live in the apt.)

    Also - the little pooch upstairs is never let out of the house. He does his #1 and #2 on the veranda immediately aboe ours. While they wash the veranda every day, the cleansing water (containing all else) drips down to our veranda windows. URGH! We have worked out a protrusion that deflects the water (plus regular cleaning) but -- how disgusting!

  4. "We had a serious discussion with him, his mother and his grandmother..." proofread first ...

  5. "Needless to say, they were not pleased when I taped all of the above to a piece of cardboard and mounted it in the elevator."

    Oh no you di'int! That's awesome, Rachel!

    But in general, this trashy behavior makes me sad. Why is it so hard for people to respect their environment and their neighbors?

  6. Vaguely related but very cool... We just watched the documentary "Wasteland" about Jardim Gramacho landfill. Moved me muito.

  7. A few of my friends report that their maids do this. No idea why; it makes no sense to me. At all.

    Definitely something I don't miss about living in the apartment (not trash thrown down, but the rinse water - luckily the people above us did not have pets!).

  8. I don't see a whole lot of this where we live, in fact, if something does happen to fall or be tossed out of your window, the Porteiro will be the first to inquire about it (hello, I have a 5 year old!). I'm pleased with our building and the tennants here, people are respectful and expect the same in return. On occaision I will see someone on the street throwing a wrapper or the like onto the ground, but not too often and I do notice that people are using the tiny city trash bins on the street a lot, they're always overflowing. You're right about the cigarette butts and hello...DOG POOP!

    Where I have witnessed a lot of trash dumping/tossing is in Ceara and Piaui. Out of cars, people tossing beer cans into the street (while sitting at a bar mind you)...complete lack of awareness or care. NOT everyone of course, but I saw it quite often.

  9. i dont think its a cultural thing...
    rude people are all over the place.
    in Paris dog poop is everywhere!! in italy u can find cigarette butts throughout the country

  10. Once in Rome I actually saw one guy going #2 on the sidewalk !

  11. But it is cultural that it's ok to leave dog poop on the streets of Paris and throw cig butts around in Italy. Apparently you can take a dump on the sidewalk in Rome ;) Actually, I saw a bum pooping in the middle of a park, during the day, in Rio.

    Anyway, I think it used to be a culturally acceptable practice that is still a bad habit for many. I know a lot of people who say their maids do it. I know even know some who say their maids do it and also do it themselves.

    And it did feel so good to embarrass the crap out of my neighbors by displaying their dirty little secret of throwing crap out! I also went up and told off a couple after they did the same kind of thing as yours Jim. I had a woman throw dirty dog bath water out the window that was over the sink and into my apartment below!

  12. OMG. This would make me totally crazy. I haven't seen it in Sao Paulo, but I live in a building without terraces (now, I'm glad).

  13. Rachel,

    I have never seen or heard about this in Sao Paulo, it would cause major fights if it ever happen, people are anal about keeping everything clean. The city is surprinsingly clean for such a big metropolis.
    Rhode Island on the other hand, people do toss crap out the window all the time, the same thing in Boston, we never saw this in Dallas, it makes me think it has something to do with all the Portuguese and Italians around New England who have a bigger tolerance for littering...
    My parents have lived in a highrise in Sao Paulo with balconies and I never ever heard of anything being tossed out the window...they have lived there for 34 years now. There building is very well kept and clean, they even intalled cameras inside the elevators to stop kids pushing all the buttons of every floor...


  14. I'm not sure it's cultural. We used to get garbage on our patio all the time. I especially hated the still burning butts. Maintenance was regularly putting little fires because people were careless.

  15. I'm starting to think I may need to live in São Paulo. Oh damn, Mr. Rant just left me for thinking that.

    So then we have an overall view that this is not culture, just done by inconsiderate bastards... um, I mean people lacking education and knowledge about proper garbage disposal.

  16. I never had this happen in any apartments I lived in in Sao Paulo (although I guess it was happening to other people in my building, because the management was always posting notices about finding cigarette butts and garbage and falling planters), but I do see a lot of littering out bus windows. I just want to ask people: "Where exactly do think that crap goes?" I once saw two very classy older ladies on the bus empty out handfuls of receipts and candy wrappers from their purses and toss them out the moving bus window. Not that classy.

    I love that you taped it all up in the elevator. My friend who lives in Miami Beach just did exactly that, and taped up huge mounds of flea-filled cat hair that wind up in her hibiscus plant on her balcony almost every day.

  17. See, I live in Sao Paulo, and I'm sorry to say we have been having this same conversation. Nice to hear it's just a Brasilian thing. We figure we'll just take it up with the Porteiro, as last time my husband inappropriately used the regular elevator we got a call from the Porteiro. And when we didn't properly sort out our recyclables, we got a call from the Porteiro. So he can call all of our garbage dumping neighbors. But hey maybe it's a Carioca in the penthouse above us ;) Although my maid is from the North, and I watched her throw lint out the window today, which was so odd as we have little waste baskets in every room.

  18. Lack of education and knowing how to be a decent human being.
    No respect what so ever for public nor private areas.
    And we don't have any laws saying we can't just through things out hahahahaha
    Yeah, total pigs is what they are. Just take a look at Ipanema beach on a late saturday afternoon. I swear my dog has better manners them most people (and even smells better)

  19. Lack of education is what it boils down to. Also the high and mighty attitude of"They have the orange guys in the street to pick it up so why shouldn't I litter?'