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Talk to your representatives about taking out the trash

Find out who represents you on the City Council and reach out to let them know you want the city to implement long-term solutions to our trash and dumping problems. 

Here you can find instructions on how to sign up to comment on council meetings and how to speak at public hearings. You can review the agendas on the calendar here and watch meetings live here.

The official website for the Office of the Mayor provides basic information and a contact number, but you can also reach out using this form.


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Citizen 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.

Get Involved

Here's how

One of the founding tenets of The Philadelphia Citizen is to get people the resources they need to become better, more engaged citizens of their city.

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 ending our trash and litter crisis, 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.

Vote and strengthen democracy

Stand up for marginalized communities

Create a cleaner, greener Philadelphia

Help our local youth and schools succeed

Support local businesses

How to Clean and Green Philly, For Real

The City’s former Litter Czar gives Mayor Parker mixed reviews on her cleaning and greening agenda so far — and offers ways to step it up

How to Clean and Green Philly, For Real

The City’s former Litter Czar gives Mayor Parker mixed reviews on her cleaning and greening agenda so far — and offers ways to step it up

Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch once said, “If you agree with me on 9 out of 12 issues, vote for me. If you agree with me on 12 out of 12 issues, see a psychiatrist.” That has been my guiding philosophy when it comes to the nascent Parker Administration.

In the beginning of last year’s Mayoral primary, the organization I co-direct, Circular Philadelphia, joined forces with other waste and litter focused groups to draft the Waste Free Philly Agenda. In it, we advocated for the mayor to: Create a Mayor’s Office of Zero Waste with an appointed Cabinet level position leading it; recommit to the City’s existing Zero Waste and Litter Plan (which I oversaw the creation of as the City’s former Zero Waste and Litter Director); make a specific plan to address illegal dumping; and do all this with transparency and qualified individuals in leadership roles to regain public trust.

Circular Philadelphia also created its own Mayoral Platform where we specifically advocated for many of the same things as the Waste Free Philly Agenda while also calling for the Mayor to split the Streets Department into two distinct entities between Streets and Sanitation so that each department could better focus on their mission.

Fast forward to the end of month two of the Parker administration. Here’s how she’s doing so far:

In the primary, then-candidate Parker publicly committed in Grid Magazine’s Mayoral Primary Profiles to bring back some form of the Zero Waste and Litter Plan. To accomplish that goal, she created a Clean and Green Office (although short on details, it appears to be focused on cleaning up the city and reducing waste) that will be headed by a cabinet-level position. She split the Streets Department in two, with one department focused on streets and highways that reports to the Managing Director, and another autonomous department to focus solely on sanitation that reports to the Clean and Green Director, former Streets Commissioner Carlton Williams. And she has been out in the community, as recently as last week, making big declarations to stop illegal dumping.

Under Carlton Williams’ tenure as Streets Commissioner, our recycling rate fell from an already underwhelming 21 percent to 7.5 percent.

As a policy advocate, I should take a victory lap to celebrate that a majority of the agenda and platform that I worked on came to fruition. But echoing Mr. Koch’s wisdom, I don’t know if these early moves are enough for me to fully throw my support behind this administration. I feel this way for two reasons.

First, Mayor Parker missed a major piece of our agenda: Appoint qualified people to these positions. This critique, to me, goes beyond Parker’s clean and green initiatives. The Mayor says she is only looking for the “best and brightest” for her administration, but it too often seems like she is just reshuffling deck chairs among Kenney appointees with whom she liked to work when she was a City Councilmember.

To wit: When Parker announced that she couldn’t think of a better person than Williams to lead her newly-conceived Clean and Green Office, I was in disbelief. Under Williams’ tenure as Streets Commissioner, our recycling rate fell from an already underwhelming 21 percent to 7.5 percent. Let me repeat that: Philly’s recycling rate is 7.5 percent. And after illegal dumping had fallen by 40 percent during the Zero Waste and Litter Cabinet’s existence from 2016 to 2019, that number climbed back up to 2016 levels when Williams’ Streets Department took over the work. This is not the track record of someone who is the “best and brightest” in his field.

I can’t help feeling the same way about Crystal Jacobs Shipman, whom Parker appointed as Sanitation Commissioner. I know Jacobs Shipman, and I can tell you that she’s a talented public servant with some good experience. But that experience was in the communications office in the Streets Department. A waste collection system that hasn’t been updated since the mid-20th century, with rampant illegal dumping, waste volumes that a beleaguered sanitation workforce can’t keep up with, and an apparent allergy to employing 21st-century technology to improve the situation all indicate a need to have someone with an innovative record of leading a big city sanitation department.

Parker’s plan to put more money into cleanings and give more lots to developers is not sustainable.

The second reason for my misgivings was brought into even sharper focus when I saw the recent Inquirer article extolling the Mayor for pledging to combat illegal dumping. While short on details, what the article outlined was mostly disappointing.

Yes, it is great to see Parker connecting vacant lots with illegal dumping, but Parker’s plan to put more money into cleanings and give more lots to developers is not sustainable. As someone who coordinated an enforcement response that recorded the highest numbers of arrests for illegal dumping since we kept records, I can tell you that her pledge to “enforce the laws” falls short of what is needed. You need to ensure coordination and continuity throughout the prosecution system to make sure dumpers are held to account. We must also rethink how we approach illegal dumping culturally and legally. For instance, when I directed the Zero Waste and Litter office, we advocated for diversion programs for first-time and low-level illegal dumping offenders that would mandate they spend two days cleaning up vacant lots as community service.

But I was even more disappointed in the administration and the Inquirer for the dramatic ending: “And when Parker saw a large abandoned van covered in graffiti and with a broken windshield sitting on the street, she called for Parking Authority executive director Rich Lazer to have a look. A half hour later, as Parker was already on her way back to City Hall, a tow truck hauled it away.” This is the tired and untrue reactionary game of Whack-a-Mole that City government favors over a sustained, data-driven approach to keeping our neighborhoods clear of blight.

We need real, long-term solutions to our waste and litter/dumping issues. Here are a few to consider:

    • The 2025 Waste and Recycling Contract: The City’s current contract with Waste Management (you know, the guys that own landfills and seem to be okay with a 7.5 percent recycling rate) is about to go out to bid, if the City can prepare itself. Instead of one windfall for a multinational corporation, we should instead split the single contract into many to address glass, compost, textiles, etc. and support the circular economy. This is possible. Just look to the City of Boulder’s Zero Waste Universal Ordinance and all the entities contracted to help them achieve that goal.
    • Better Utilization of Sanitation Centers: Circular Philadelphia and the consortium of partners under the Clean Philadelphia Now campaign have been calling on the City to allow small haulers to bring in small amounts of construction and demolition materials for recycling (read our policy paper here). But why stop there? The Circular Philadelphia team was just in Austin, TX, where their sanitation centers are equipped to take dozens of types of hard-to-recycle materials to provide better options than just the blue bin (read about their work here).
    • Containerized Trash Cans: It’s my hypothesis that most of the litter we see in our neighborhoods is the result of our archaic trash collection (and not the fault of the sanitation workers forced to work in these terrible conditions). It defies logic that we run trash trucks down narrow streets in dense parts of the city to pick up one row house or mix-used multi-unit commercial space at a time, for a total of 585,000 individual houses. I recently visited Houston, which has a 50 percent larger population than ours, yet only picks up from 407,000 houses because of the way they set out their trash. Let’s steal New York City’s idea for containerized trash storage.
    • Combating Illegal Dumping: Mayor Parker’s administration must address illegal dumping holistically, catching illegal dumpers and successfully prosecuting them, better regulating the waste hauling and building trades, and activating vacant lots instead of waiting for developers to build something. The good news is that we already have a framework in the 2017 Zero Waste and Litter Action Plan that was achieving success. We need the mayor to revisit that plan, use data to execute and measure, and then work with grassroots organizations like Clean Philadelphia Now to truly involve the residents — and not just when a reporter is tailing the Mayor’s entourage.

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 start up Circa Systems.


Photo by Theo Wyss-Flamm

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