Do Something

Tell city leaders how you want litter finally dealt with

A new administration is coming don’t let them get complacent. Make sure they know you’re paying attention long after you’ve voted.

Find out who represents you on the City Council and reach out to let them know you want the city to take action on our trash and litter crisis. Use the ideas Ya Fav Trashman has outlined to help make your point!

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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Be part of the solution to our trash problem

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 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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Ideas We Should Steal Festival 2023

On Friday, November 17, The Philadelphia Citizen is holding our 6th Annual Ideas We Should Steal Festival presented by Comcast NBCUniversal. Meet changemakers and icons sharing ideas and solutions to help Philadelphia thrive. Get more information and register here:

Memo to Madam Mayor: Clean Up Philly

“Ya Fav” Trashman urges Mayor-elect Cherelle Parker to do something unprecedented when she takes office in January: Seriously take on litter

Memo to Madam Mayor: Clean Up Philly

“Ya Fav” Trashman urges Mayor-elect Cherelle Parker to do something unprecedented when she takes office in January: Seriously take on litter

Over the last three years as a clean streets advocate, I’ve had the opportunity to speak to people all around the country. When I do, I always get their thoughts on how my city’s leadership could finally get Philly clean. Everyone I talk to agrees: It starts with making beautification a true priority.

We need a new, concerted approach — and sooner rather than later. Yes: Gun violence, education, housing are super important. But we cannot continue to let cleanliness bring up the rear. It’s been proven over and over: A cleaner city is a safer city, where people want to live, to learn and take active parts in their communities.

A new Litter Task Force

First, we need to put an expert in a position of power to address the issue. This person must have a vast knowledge of not only sanitation and sustainability, but also management, customer service, city functions, and, most importantly, Philadelphia itself. Appoint and empower that person as the commissioner of an all-new Philadelphia Litter Task Force.

I believe once our city has decided to not litter — and has places to dispose of waste in all of our neighborhoods — trash on the ground would go extinct. Once we see and feel how nice it is to live and play and work in a clean environment, we’d want to keep it that way.

Mayor Kenney’s administration tried this with a Zero Waste & Litter Cabinet. Under Nic Esposito (who’s since left) the initiatives made and continue to make progress. They helped ban single-use plastic shopping bags, increased composting, reduced trash from city events, recycled school district materials, among other accomplishments.

But no program will work if we don’t clean up our city first — and put money behind it.

Let me be clear: By “litter task force,” I don’t mean a volunteer-powered group, even with a paid leader. I mean a real, organized, official unit of city workers solely dedicated to eradicating all the litter in Philadelphia, identifying spaces where people consistently illegally dump, educating Philadelphians on best practices, and improving the city’s response time to reported illegal dumps. We already have something close to this in CLIP. We should build from there.

Litter eradication is a multi-step process.

Step one: Create places to put it.

Add trash cans to the corners of neighborhoods that have been without them for decades. In wealthier parts of Philadelphia, you’ll find a proper place to put your handheld trash on every block. But in most places in town, residents don’t even have the option to discard litter in the right places. Without cans, trash ends up on sidewalks and streets, in parks and on lots.

Step two: Hire people to pick it up.

I’ve done over 100 neighborhood cleanups since 2021. It’s a huge job that requires a multi-pronged effort when you’re tackling an illegal dumpsite. But week-to-week, most neighborhoods just need a few people to pay attention to them.

Hire more sanitation workers to handle trash that doesn’t get picked up on collection days. Philadelphia is already broken up into 10 different districts. Each district could have its own team whose everyday job would be to go block by block with brooms, shovels and trashbags, sweeping sidewalks, streets, and also cleaning out storm drains.

(Here’s something to believe: The more you see someone picking up your trash off your block, the less likely you are to leave your trash there in the first place.)

Step three is a big one. It involves a shift of mindset.

Littering is a taught behavior. We must unteach these bad habits. No more open the car door at a red light to dump your McDonald’s out. No more going to the corner store, eating a bag of chips, balling up the bag, and tossing it on the ground; no more putting our trash out two days before collection day.

The task force, with the help of the Streets Department, should create and execute educational campaigns to teach residents of Philly about the proper way to recycle. They could use social media to get younger folks involved with keeping the city clean and partner with the School District to make anti-littering and environmental stewardship part of the curriculum, kindergarten through high school.

I always say, “When you know better, you do better.”

In Austin, Texas sanitation workers are allowed to give out citations and fines. If necessary, the task force commissioner could let their workers do the same thing. But I’m hoping it won’t come to that.

I believe once our city has decided to not litter — and has places to dispose of waste in all of our neighborhoods — trash on the ground would go extinct. Once we see and feel how nice it is to live and play and work in a clean environment, we’d want to keep it that way.

Step four: Tackle community dumping, but for real

When I do a cleanup of a badly trashed spot in Philly, I typically announce it beforehand. A few times I’ve put it out there that I’ll be at a certain park or at an intersection at a specific time. By the time my crew of volunteers and I get there, the Streets Department has already gone and cleaned it all up. This tells me the City has the ability to clean up in places it wants to — and faster than typically happens when you call in an illegal dumpsite to 311.

Currently, the turnaround time for a reported illegal dump in Philly is up to 90 days. I’m not saying that adding a task force would reduce that time to 24 hours. But I do think we could cut the response time in half, if not more than half.

This is how it should work: A resident calls 311, or the task force directly. Within 24 to 48 hours, someone comes to check out the site, then orders the right size crew and vehicle to come clean it up. Since this crew is separate from sanitation workers on collection routes, residential collection can continue as planned.

If that site is called in multiple times, the task force installs a camera there, along with signs that say “You’re being recorded.” Then, they really watch the video to catch the repeat offenders and fine them

I’m told that the Streets Department has a list of frequently dumped spots in the city. If this is true, there’s no reason not to go ahead and start this work at those places. Install cameras. Patrol. Catch the people trashing our city. We can’t let neighbors and sweepers be the only ones responsible for cleaning up. We need to enforce the litter laws on the books.

What Philly needs so the plan succeeds

By my estimates, the task force would need around 100 more sanitation workers and at least 12 trash trucks. What else we need for it to work: transparency and community participation. Lay out a four-year plan with a step-by-step execution chart, so residents could follow along and give input. Listen to them. Adapt to what they’re saying.

Mayor-elect Parker has listed cleaning up our city as a top priority. Let’s trust her that this is not just a pillar on a campaign to get votes.

One thing’s for sure: Our new mayor has the opportunity to do something no other mayor has done: Get Philly clean. #keepitclean

Terrill Haigler, Ya Fav Trashman, is a former Philly sanitation worker with a serious gift for organizing and employing social media and direct action to mobilize an impactful movement to clean up our city. As a change-maker dedicated to making Philadelphia the best version of itself, Haigler is also a member of “Generation Change Philly,” a partnership between The Philadelphia Citizen and the nonprofit Keepers of the Commons.

The Citizen welcomes guest commentary from community members who represent that it is their own work and their own opinion based on true facts that they know firsthand.


Artwork courtesy of Dan Shepelavy

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