Live a Greener Life

We lay out 16-plus ways to live a more eco-friendly life in Philadelphia—from how to get and plant free trees to tips on composting and recycling

Live a Greener Life

We lay out 16-plus ways to live a more eco-friendly life in Philadelphia—from how to get and plant free trees to tips on composting and recycling

The City of Philadelphia has spent the last several years working to make Philly a more eco-friendly town. But we can’t leave it up to City Hall alone if we want to make an impact.

The path to a greener city and planet begins at home, and thankfully there are plenty of city resources to help you along the way.

Below, we lay out some ideas on how to live a more eco-friendly home life in Philadelphia—from getting and planting free yard trees to tips on composting, recycling and sustainable shopping.

RELATED: Your ultimate guide to being a more-engaged citizen in Philadelphia

How to live a more eco-friendly life in Philadelphia


1. Plant a free yard tree

Children plant a tree
Photo courtesy Douglas Ellis / U.S. Air Force

TreePhilly, a Parks & Recreation-led effort to broaden our urban forest, gives away free yard trees twice a year—in the fall and spring. You can sign up for one here, choosing a variety and pickup location. All trees come in 5-gallon buckets, so they are small enough to fit in a compact car. They also come with easy, step-by-step planting instructions. Sign up for TreePhilly’s newsletter here to get more information about the next yard tree giveaway.

2. Buy your own tree

That way you can plant it whenever you want. The Arbor Day Foundation offers this guide for selecting the right tree for your yard, depending on its size, sun and watering requirements. Of course, you can buy any and all types of plants to make things greener. If you go for small trees or shrubs, consult the Philadelphia Horticultural Society’s FAQ page for tips and tricks on planting and maintaining all things green and sprouting.

3. Get a free rain barrel

Photo shows a rain barrel that was installed for free by the Philadelphia Water Department
Photo courtesy Philadelphia Water Department

Sign up for Philadelphia Water Department (PWD) program RainCheck to learn how you can divert stormwater before it hits the sewers—and prettify your yard at the same time. PWD will install a free rain barrel at your home just for attending a one-hour workshop. For $100, the department will give you a wooden downspout planter filled with plants. It will also offset up to $2,000 of the cost of ripping up your concrete patio and replacing it with water-permeable material. Register online here to attend a workshop and get the ball rolling.

4. Get a free recycling bin

Need a new recycling bin? The Philadelphia Streets Department will provide one at zero charge if you either sign up here to have one delivered to your house, or grab one yourself at a nearby pickup location, which you can find here.

5. Make sure you're recycling properly

Guide to recycling properly
Photo courtesy Philadelphia Streets Department

Here’s a handy list of what you can—and cannot—put out on the curb for recycling. (Hint: Plastic shopping bags do not go in your blue bin. Instead, take them to a grocery store for reuse.) The site also has ideas for recycling things like styrofoam that the Streets Department can’t recycle.

6. Put your trash out correctly

Put lids on bins, put your trash out on the right day and time, and know the resources available for “weird” trash. You can even take advantage of the Streets Department’s Tire Roundup Program for used tires!

7. Get free compost and mulch

Friends help shovel a heaping pile of compost. Did you know you can get gratis compost and mulch from the Fairmount Park Organic Recycling Center through a program run by Philadelphia Parks & Recreation. You can get up to 30 gallons free, but there’s a slight charge if you need more.
Photo courtesy Fairmount Park Conservancy

Did you know you can get gratis compost and mulch from the Fairmount Park Organic Recycling Center through a program run by Philadelphia Parks & Recreation. You can get up to 30 gallons free, but there’s a slight charge if you need more. Details here.

8. Properly dispose of your leaves and lawn clippings

Learn how to properly dispose of leaves and yard clippings in Philadelphia
Photo courtesy Phil Roeder / Flickr

You can drop off leaves and other yard waste at the Recycling Center or hook up with a composting service like Bennett Compost that will pick up your waste at your front door.

9. Compost your food waste

Philadelphia is scheduled to open its first citywide composting facility in the spring of 2020. But other options grant you the benefit of pick up right at your door, such as Bennett Compost, which offers weekly organics pickup for $18 per month, and Circle Compost does weekly or bi-weekly for $12 and $18, respectively.

10. Drink tap water

A child drinks tap water, because that's better for the environment.
Photo courtesy Johnny McClung / Unsplash

Put that fancy HydroFlask to good use by filling it with good ol’ Philadelphia drinking water, which winds up in your home with very little environmental impact. The practice also helps decrease your carbon footprint and reduce the amount of plastic bottles that wind up in landfills and, even worse, oceans. Philadelphia touts its tap water as among the healthiest in the nation, but you can keep track of local water quality by visiting this page.

11. Go the Clean-Energy Route

You’ve likely seen the pesky folks standing outside grocery stores urging you to swap your current electricity and gas plan with a cleaner-energy version. Making the switch on the street may not be the most-convenient option, but consider making the effort when you get home. Doing so ensures your power comes from renewable sources generated right here in Pennsylvania—from sources like solar and wind—and chips away at the need for fracking in our beautiful state. If you’re looking to make the change, check out Community Energy or the Energy Co-op.

12. Go Car-Free

A biker bikes down Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia
Photo courtesy Michael Stokes Flickr

Help reduce city emission by walking, riding a bike or taking public transportation. The city is outfitted with tons of bike lanes, making two-wheel travel safer than ever these days. And the new SEPTA Key card, while not without its flaws, makes public transit a breeze. Going car-free not only saves the environment but would also cut back on some of Philly’s biggest and most-annoying issues: parking and traffic congestion. Paris has done it; so can we!

13. Be mindful of what you put down the drain

To make sure our drinking water remains safe and clean to drink, the Office of Sustainability recommends avoiding putting things like litter, oils, medicine and other hazardous materials in our sinks or storm drains.

14. Stock your kitchen with local foods

A woman at a farmers market hands over a big bunch of kale to customers.
Photo courtesy Sabina Louise Pierce

You can buy all kinds of goodies for your pantry at one of the many farmers’ markets in and around Philadelphia—from fruits and vegetables to locally sourced honey and baked goods. You can also check out one of Greensgrow’s farm stands happening at various times throughout the year, or check out a local CSA to have in-season veggies delivered to your doorstep.

15. Shop sustainable

Support local businesses in your neighborhood and around Philadelphia that have pledged to operate on an environmentally conscious business model through the Sustainable Business Network. You can find a list of participating businesses—from health spas like Eviama to restaurants like Primal Meat Supply and Yards Brewing Company—here.

16. Live a greener afterlife

It may sound morbid, but our carbon footprint continues to stomp along long after we die—unless we take the initiative to peace-out in the greenest way possible. Lucky for us, Philly is home to West Laurel Hill Cemetery and Funeral Home, which has the greenest burial practices in the country. They accomplish that through a series of eco-conscious endeavors, such as letting goats mow the cemetery yard to putting people to rest in a bucolic natural burial section called Nature’s Sanctuary.

Katherine Rapin contributed content to this article

Header photo courtesy Albert Yee / Fairmount Park Conservancy

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