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It’s not like we don’t know what works. Municipalities worldwide have solved the problem. We can too. Find out who represents you on the City Council and reach out to let them know you want the Clean and Green Cabinet to address our systemic problems and end our trash and litter crisis.

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Solutions for Philly's trash problem

Don’t be a part of the problem, be part of the solution. 

What do you do if you need to dispose of bulk household trash like tires, Christmas trees, appliances, or yard waste? The city provides six sanitation centers where you can dispose of these items safely and at no cost. Here’s what you need to know about legally getting rid of bulk trash.

Whether you have residential or commercial questions about trash and recycling in Philly, here is your resource.

Find details on the who, where, when, and how to report illegal dumping, using a convenient online form or by contacting 311.

Feeling like you want to help clean up?

Take a look at Judith Robinson’s Susquehanna Clean Up/Pick Up Inc.

If you and your neighbors want to work together to get your block clean, sign up for Glitter’s service here Or, if you’re passionate about cleaning up litter and want to earn some extra money, apply here to join the Glitter Litter team

Want to organize a street cleanup yourself? The Philadelphia Citizen has everything you need to know to get started.

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We hope to do that in our Good Citizenship Toolkit, which includes a host of ways to get involved in Philadelphia — whether you want to contact your City Councilmember about cleaning up our trash problem, get those experiencing homelessness the goods they need, or simply go out to dinner somewhere where you know your money is going toward a greater good.

Find an issue that’s important to you in the list below, and get started on your journey of A-plus citizenship.

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Can These Leaders Get Philly Clean?

The City’s former Litter Czar breaks down what we know about Mayor Parker’s new Clean and Green Cabinet — and what they need to succeed

Can These Leaders Get Philly Clean?

The City’s former Litter Czar breaks down what we know about Mayor Parker’s new Clean and Green Cabinet — and what they need to succeed

In season 4 of the seminal HBO series The Wire, former Councilman Tommy Carcetti, played by Aidan Gillen, becomes mayor of Baltimore. Carcetti’s election comes at a pivotal time: Baltimore’s leaders have recognized the issues their city faces — violence, police corruption, urban decay — cannot be accepted as intractable. Progress must be made.

In a memorable scene depicting the mayor’s first few weeks in office, he walks into a police precinct and simply states (and I’m paraphrasing), “There’s an abandoned car on the street, go tow it,” and then walks out. This sets the police in the precinct scrambling to figure out what car it is, leaving them no choice but to start towing any abandoned car they see.

And so life continues to imitate art in the Parker administration as the announcement of the Clean and Green Cabinet has finally arrived. Along with an executive order and cabinet members announcement (more on that below), there was the announcement that the Clean and Green Office will clean, tow cars, fill potholes and fix quality of life issues on every block in Philly this summer.

I won’t go too in depth in my analysis that this is not a sustainable strategy. Here in Philly, litter, graffiti, abandoned cars and illegal dumping appear just as quickly as they are removed. And, while filling every pothole sounds sustainable, according to the Bicycle Coalition, Philly paves only 50 miles of roads each year, when it should target 131 miles annually just to keep up with maintenance. I dare any driver to grab a cup of coffee to go, even secure it with a lid, hang a left on Susquehanna Street from Frankford Ave., drive to Front and try not to get coffee all over your car’s interior.

The problems Philadelphia faces demand systemic solutions. In my experience crafting executive orders for these types of cabinets, this order lacks a clear understanding of why these issues are happening, and it lacks a clear framework for how City departments will actually work together to achieve a “cleaner and greener” city. This initiative seems to suffer from trying to be in 10 different places at once — with no clear path to get to any of those places. A scope this diffuse lends itself to accomplishing very little.

Who’s who on the Cabinet?

To put a point on this, let’s look at who’s on the Clean and Green Cabinet and who’s not. First, I am confused as to why representatives from PGW and PECO would serve on a cabinet whose apparent mission is to address waste and litter. It’s not to say these aren’t valuable public servants. I’ve worked with Doug Oliver of PECO and honestly, his general expertise and ability to navigate our City systems is a plus for any initiative. But why this one?

I guess the answer lies in the “Committee Summaries,” which state under the “Sustainability Committee” section that there will be a focus on renewable energy. But again, why does a cabinet concerned with waste and litter include a focus on renewable energy, especially when entities like the Philadelphia Energy Authority are doing such a great job progressing renewables?

This initiative seems to suffer from trying to be in 10 different places at once with no clear path to get to any of those places. A scope this large lends itself to accomplishing very little.

I’m not sure if there was any limit on the number of appointees, but if there wasn’t, why not include someone from Bennett Compost, which has a contract with the City to do composting? This would make sense given that the Sustainability Committee is also focused on exploring “the feasibility of scaling composting and other waste diversions in the city.” It’s also odd that the City’s Recycling Director is not on the Cabinet, given the focus on increasing recycling rates. If you’re serious about improving the city’s recycling rate from single digits, surely you’d want the Recycling Director on the Cabinet.

When it comes to waste reduction, it was great to see Bob Anderson of Closed Loop Partners on the cabinet. Not only is Closed Loop an incredible resource for cities across the country for funding to bring waste and materials management systems into the 21st century, which Philly sorely needs, but Anderson operated the recycling facility Philly formerly used, so he gets it.

I was also happy to see Fern Gookin from Revolution Recovery, a major Philadelphia recycler of construction and demolition debris. Fern is also a former co-chair of the City’s Solid Waste and Recycling Advisory Committee, which like so much else was curiously left out of the executive order. As I have argued in The Citizen before and will continue to do, increasing construction and demolition recycling is a key strategy to stopping illegal dumping. Similarly, I must give a shout out to Jerome Shabazz, who has been doing incredible work at the Overbrook Environmental Center at the intersection of waste reduction and cleaning communities.

Just like the Zero Waste and Litter Cabinet, it is good to see inter-agency cooperation like SEPTA, Licenses & Inspections, Commerce and Parks and Recreation reflected in the Cabinet. Those departments are crucial in setting policy for waste reduction and cleaning the city. It was also great to see longtime fighters of the good fight against litter such as Rolando Sanchez of Impact Services, Majeedah Rashid of Nicetown CDC and Maria Gonzalez of HACE CDC. These leaders have been working for years to clean up the neighborhoods they represent. And it’s great to see them joined by new community development corporation additions like Prema Katari Gupta of the Center City District and Rick Sauer of the PA Association of CDCs.

There are great people named to this Cabinet. But for many of them, this is not their first rodeo. They have collectively served on dozens of task forces, stakeholder groups, cabinets, initiatives and any other bureaucratic constructs to get stuff done. But these people are only as good as the focus, continuity and competency of these entities’ leaders.

Let’s remember how the fifth and final season of The Wire ends. Tommy Carcetti advances to being elected governor of Maryland. Some of the police get promoted, others drop out of public service. Some of the gang members are murdered or incarcerated, and other younger ones are right there to take their place. The cast of characters change, but the problems stay the same.

I have hope that this is a good group of characters brought together through this Cabinet, but my plea to them is to hold leadership accountable so that we don’t keep doing the same things we have been doing with no effect. That includes repeatedly cleaning with no focus on addressing the systemic issues related to waste and litter in Philly. We must do better.


Nic Esposito served as the City of Philadelphia’s Zero Waste and Litter Director from 2016-2020. He’s currently the Director of Policy and Engagement for Circular Philadelphia and the Founder of the circular economy startup Circa Systems.

MORE ON CLEANING UP PHILLY FROM THE CITIZEN

 

Members of Mayor Parker's Clean and Green Cabinet in 2024 include, clockwise, from top left, Doug Oliver, Fern Gookin, Rolando Santos, Majeedah Rashid, Rick Sauer, Prema Katari Gupta, Jerome Shabazz and Bob Anderson.

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