Less than two years ago, Philly made headlines when Forbes reported on a poll that ranked Philadelphia as the dirtiest city in America. Twenty months, 80-plus community clean-ups, and over 350 tons of trash picked up later — and I really don’t know if a dent’s been made. At all. Our city still looks a mess.
Pennsylvania has a surplus of $12 billion in the state budget. Our state reps are currently trying to figure out what to do with that money. Here’s my two cents on how to use some of that windfall to clean our city. It needs it. We need it.
Illegal — or “short” — dumping has become a huge issue in Philadelphia. But you wouldn’t know it if you looked at the City’s new budget. I really wish more action was taken to attack the dumping problem. Don’t get me wrong: I love the extra money for Jamie Gauthier’s #JustServicesPHL campaign, but knowing the inside workings of the Streets Department, I’m not confident we will see results as soon as we need to.
For example, the City has set aside $2 million to hire new crews and buy trucks just to combat illegal dumping. I applied for a job in sanitation in 2017 — and wasn’t hired until 2019. We can’t wait two years for crews to be hired. Instead, we should establish something bigger, stronger. It’s time for Philadelphia to have an illegal dump task force. It’s time for every resident of this city to finally live on a clean block.
Imagine this: The City creates an extension of the Streets Department, a task force that deals only with illegal dumps. This force would have their own website, phone number, staff, communication team, crews, trucks and building. Then, when a resident notices short dumping, they call the number, and get connected to a live person. That person creates a ticket, which goes onto a report that lists all current dump sites. A crew chief assigns crews to go and clean the piles at these sites.
All this would happen within 72 hours. A reasonable turnaround — unlike the five to seven days it takes 3-1-1 to get the job done now. Then, after each pile is picked up, the task force would keep an eye on that location. If illegal trash returns three times, the task force adds a camera, but not one of the cameras that the City pays $7,000 to install. They would put up a waterproof, wire-free, solar-powered, 4G LTE, starlight night vision-equipped camera like a Reolink Go — which, by the way, sells for $179. These cameras need only a SIM card, and operate on T-Mobile, one of the city’s most widely used cell networks.
Let’s take a big leap. Let’s stop talking and start doing, before the World Cup is here, and visitors piling off planes are greeted with nothing but trash and tires along Island Avenue.
I estimate the task force would need two people per district, assigned to three shifts per day, to monitor the cameras and catch people in the act of dumping. The footage could be accessed by anyone on the team via smartphone.
Besides finding and stopping the short dumpers, the task force would also hire 1,000 people to be on a brooms team. Equipped with shovels, trash cans on wheels, brooms, and trash pickers, this team would conduct weekly cleanups in zones throughout the city — just like sanitation workers pick up trash weekly.
Not only would they keep our blocks clean, they’d also be preventing trash from getting in the waterways, reducing gun violence on the streets (clean streets are safer streets), and providing hard-working people, especially young people, with reliable jobs that pay well.
They would also make Philadelphia beautiful.
I don’t know the exact math on how much this task force would cost. But just a small piece of the $12 billion just sitting there should more than cover it. So far, Philly has taken baby steps towards a cleaner Philadelphia. Let’s take a big leap. Let’s stop talking and start doing, before the World Cup is here, and visitors piling off planes are greeted with nothing but trash and tires along Island Avenue.
Philly’s IDTF (Illegal Dump Task Force) needs to be created … now.
Let’s all say yes to a cleaner Philadelphia. We deserve it.
Terrill Haigler 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. 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 stipulate to the best of their ability that it is fact-based and non-defamatory.
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