Ya Fav Trashman began as a largely anonymous sanitation worker and civil servant with an intriguing Instagram account that promised an inside look into his work. Within the span of roughly 18 months, he became one the city’s best-known activists, a man who has garnered national attention for the work he’s doing, shining a light on the city’s trash issues, and how the City is (or is not) dealing with them.
Today, Terrill Haigler, aka Ya Fav Trashman, CEO of YaFavTrashman LLC and founder of the nonprofit Trash 2 Treasure, is an influencer (with 33.7K Insta followers), sanitation guru, public speaker, brand ambassador, entrepreneur, author, environmental activist, clean-up evangelist — and, more recently, a candidate for City Council who’s admitted to using campaign funds to pay himself a sustaining salary.
The journey here has been … a lot. But don’t let that confuse you: Haigler is laser-focused on using his platform and ideas to improve life for Philadelphians and the city they live in. That’s why he is a part of Generation Change Philly, The Citizen’s series in partnership with Keepers of the Commons to highlight new leaders working to better the city.
Here, a timeline of the growing (and growing, and growing) influence of the man who’s taking on Filthadelphia in a way this city has never seen:
THE RISE OF YA FAV TRASHMAN: AN ILLUSTRATED TIMELINE
👉 Terrill Haigler is born in North Philly; attends Philly’s Creative and Performing Arts High School; studies dance at Freedom Theater, then starts work with Freedom, both behind the scenes and teaching dance to children, and then, briefly, teaches dance within the Philly School District. He works for a couple years at Penn Health as floor technician and in environmental services, before taking work as a program coordinator at the Salvation Army’s Kroc Center, where he does everything from running basketball leagues to teaching water aerobics and jazzercise to personal training, and more.
👉 In 2019, Haigler starts the work for which he becomes famous, in the Sanitation Department of Philadelphia, a job he applied to for its benefits, pension and insurance. “I was in love with the kids and the programming at Salvation Army,” he says, “but that work was part time.” When the city job came about, that was that. “I thought at the time that sanitation workers made north of $55 or $60 grand coming in the door,” he says. His starting salary? $31,000. “Overtime helped,” he says.
👉 Covid gets real.
SUMMER 2020: AN ACTIVIST IS BORN ✊
👉 As trash delays plague the city, thanks to rampant Covid outbreaks, quarantines and lack of childcare (not to mention an increase in the amount of trash all the homebound Philadelphians are producing), the 311 calls and angry Tweets and political back-and-forth all start flying. In response, Haigler decides in June to launch the Instagram account, @YaFavTrashman, promising followers to “give you the inside look, with a lil comedy, of what it’s like to be a trashman.” And quoth Philly Mag: “A city long plagued by its trash issues was instantly hooked.” The trick, Haigler says, is that “I could shed light in a light and charming way.”
👉 Posts a request for people to demand the City provide proper PPE, better masks, “prick-proof gloves,” and hazard pay for sanitation workers. Haigler suggests to his followers that they show support for sanitation workers, while also answering questions and communicating about delays.
👉 Starts a fundraiser—with T-shirts!!—to buy PPE and cleaning supplies for sanitation workers and continues to advocate for more public support of the people doing the work.
👉 MAJOR TURNING POINT: The Inky runs a story about Haigler and his work. “That was the moment that, as my grandma would say, broke the camel’s back,” Haigler says. “From then on I got a slew of phone calls, Instagram messages and people wanting to partner with me.”
Another major boost? Haigler had been working with communications strategist Ariana Queenan of Write Here Write Now, whom he’d hired to be his manager. “She formed me into a sustainable LLC,” he says. “My goal was to get 500 followers, crack some jokes, do some videos. She was the one who said, I think you have a thing here.” With help from Queenan and brand consultant Brandon Jo’el, he became a brand, complete with “pillars and brand language and talking points.” Also? Merchandise!
👉 The list of people who donate to the cause grows, including ward leaders, Kismet Bagels, Honest Tea, Mission Taqueria, Philly PPE store (among others, including, eventually, Go Puff and T-Mobile and Milwaukee Tool), while WHYY and Philly Mag (among other media entities) also do stories about Ya Fav Trashman and his mission. Reputation grows.
👉 The trash pickup problems continue deep into the summer, but the narrative in Philly shifts: People begin to express more empathy for sanitation workers and make signs showing their support.
👉 Possum! (And 3,200 likes.)
👉 Haigler goes national: Good Morning America features Haigler and his Instagram account. So does David Muir with ABC News. And not long after that, so does Kelly Clarkson.
👉 In late August, the Inky reports that Haigler has raised $32,000 for PPE and other supplies. Haigler tells the paper: “I want to use my platform to really revolutionize sanitation. It didn’t start off as that, but as the platform grows, the goals have to grow,” he said. “I have to push for a sanitation worker 50 years from now to be able to do their job safely and feel like they’re essential.”
Fall 2020: Philly’s Fav Trashman
👉 Haigler speaks at a Labor Day rally with other front-line workers at City Hall, and then, a few days later, shows up on Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s “General’s Briefing.”
👉 Haigler wins Technically Philly’s “Invention of the Year” Award for his Insta account (which had accrued more than 20K followers at this point), and the work he’d been doing in raising “awareness for sanitation workers’ needs during COVID-19,” as well as communicating with the public about trash collection.
👉 People (and businesses) express gratitude, though the city says it still can’t afford hazard pay for sanitation workers.
👉 The Biden/Harris campaign (!) taps him to star in a campaign commercial.
👉 Haigler starts partnering with other organizations to help front line workers in other ways, too, while donations of safety gear keep pouring in. YaFav uses crowdsourcing for support, but this time, he’s thinking about the disposal of used needles, in cahoots with @phlpublichealth.
Winter 2021: New Year, New Impact
👉 At State Rep Jared Solomon’s request, Haigler helps launch a major neighborhood cleanup, which is the beginning of a new avenue of influence: Soon, Haigler is partnering with other politicos to run cleanups throughout the city. He brings with him gear and music and food, with help from his sponsors and partners. By this time, he and Queenan had been discussing what his next steps were, what his role would be in a post-Covid world, and it was suddenly clear. This was a sustainable role, he says: Advocating and taking action on cleaning up the city, and — more broadly — environmental justice.
Haigler regularly points to studies linking trash, dilapidation and blight to crime, violence and depression in a city. “When you see all the trash on the ground, it’s a form of excluding all the people in those neighborhoods. It’s saying we don’t care about them. How do you show someone you love them? A touch, a hug, a high-five. Cleaning someone’s someone’s street is like a hug from the city,” he says. “Picking up the trash is a way to say, I see you, I acknowledge you.”
Pick-ups work like this: The elected officials use pull with the city to get a truck onsite, and Ya Fav uses his influence and expertise and various partners to lure the crowd and direct the clean up, even calling on friends from an old job in demolition to bring their trucks and help pick up some of the “bulky stuff” and illegal dump refuse. They’re a major hit. “We had 200 people show up on MLK Day at 17th and Master,” he says. “We cleaned out six abandoned lots.”
👉 In February, Haigler decides to leave the Sanitation Department amidst a climate he’s since described to Philly Mag as less than friendly toward him. Was he worried that he’d lose his access to city garbage trucks without his official role within the department?
“I was definitely concerned. I thought, The only way this is attainable is if I keep pairing up with elected officials. So it’s them making the call, not me.” In the end, though, his professional relationship with Tom Conway, deputy managing director of the Street Department’s Community Life Improvement Program (CLIP) means that he, too, was able to request trucks and get them for pickup.
👉 Haigler toe-dips into politics himself, doing a bit of consulting for a judicial race. (“I thought, If I have a little pull, a little power, how can I use it to uplift my community?”) He’s also accepted into Philadelphia’s City Planning Institute, an eight-week course that helps Philadelphians learn techniques and channels to help shape neighborhoods and the city. Meantime, cleanups continue, with support and supplies from a variety of sponsors.
Spring-Winter 2021: Most Valuable Philadelphian
👉 Congressman Brendan Boyle issues Haigler a Congressional Citation for his work.
👉 The mission widens: Haigler partners with other heavy-hitters, including Jeff Brown, CEO of ShopRite and mayoral candidate, to promote an expungement clinic. As he later writes on his feed: “Yes, I want to see Philly be the cleanest city in America, but I also care about the people living in this city.”
👉 Billy Penn names him 2021’s Most Valuable Philadelphian.
👉 Announces collaboration with new startup, @therounds.co, which delivers home basics (i.e. toilet paper and dish soap) in reusable containers and pick up the empties as a means of reducing waste. (He remains an ongoing consultant today, and they just expanded to Washington, D.C.)
👉 Also in July, another notable collaboration: He teams up with Morgan Berman of tech firm MilkCrate and ShopRite’s Jeff Brown to launch and promote Glitter, an app that allows sponsors to pay individuals to clean up designated areas on a weekly basis.
👉 Haigler’s Inquirer op-ed spotlights both the lack of the leadership and innovation that he’s seen in other cities when it comes to clean streets. If Austin, Texas can do it …
👉 On his birthday in September, Haigler officially gets nonprofit status and launches Trash 2 Treasure, his 501(c)(3) geared toward deep community engagement: through the nonprofit, he runs neighborhood cleanups, expungement clinics, financial literacy workshops and food drives. (Want to donate? You can do it here.)
👉 State Rep. Solomon honors Haigler, noting that Ya Fav had picked up 115 tons of trash by this point in the year.
👉 In October, Haigler launches a Kickstarter to promote and sell a children’s book he authored: I’m Cool Too is a picture book about the role sanitation workers play in a community and the price of littering. Kickstarter names the book as a “Project We Love” just before a literary agent begins to shop the book around to big publishers.
👉 Haigler is one of the Citizen’s judges for our Integrity Icon contest. He also begins a residency at Friends Select school: He’s working with students on the art of organizing. They’re writing press releases and invitations, practicing public speaking and working on social media strategy, he says, all in a lead-up to a big clean-up they’ll run in April. “It’s so much fun in there!”
👉 Yet another big announcement: Ya Fav Hauling, “the Amazon of Hauling” — a new company that will haul debris from construction and demolition companies to the dump (thereby reducing illegal dumping and providing an much-needed service to contractors and developers) will debut in the new year, with both a subscription option and a one-time job fee. He’s already signed seven clients, and tells the Tribune: “I would love for my hauling company to be the standard for normal because every citizen in this city deserves to live on a clean street and deserves to not have illegal dumping in their neighborhood.”
He’s ready to go, he says: “I’m literally just waiting for the truck to come in.” (That truck, by the way, will also help him with the neighborhood and street cleanups he’s still doing on the regular.) And as he scales, he intends to hire returning citizens and neighborhood youth, and “pay them a living wage. It’s all connected. And I’m all about restorative solutions.”
Late 2022, early 2023 — a failed Council run
In December 2022, Haigler announces he’s throwing his hat into the ring to for an At-Large seat on City Council. Events are planned. Funds are raised. Petition signatures are requested. Then, in March, on the eve of the candidates’ due date for submitting signed petitions, he announces that he can’t go the distance. Not enough signatures. Made some mistakes.
A few days later, the Inquirer publishes a story saying Haigler owes two staffers $14,000 in back pay — and, he used campaign funds for living expenses. According to their report, he Cash App-ed himself more than 200 times — for more than $17,000 — over the past few months. “Moving campaign funds to a private bank account is prohibited under city and state campaign finance law,” says the piece.
Some of the funds he withdrew went to campaign expenses. The other went to cost of living, “‘In order to run, I can’t be homeless, I can’t go hungry. I have three children to take care of,'” he told the paper. Haigler added that he’s never not want to pay staff. He just didn’t have it in the bank.
Today and onward
👉 At the original posting of this piece (December 2021), there are more ideas brewing inside the brain of Ya Fav Trashman. For example? As he works on picking up dump sites, he envisions a digital tool that tracks the locations and maps his footprint: That data, he says, can be turned over to the City or the state so they can track illegal dumping and take preventative measures, such as installing cameras.
Or in another vein, he says, “How amazing would it be for the City to open up their dumps, and have people pay an annual permit rate? Or you use the City dumps at a flat rate, $300 every time you come, no matter how much trash you have. How economically sustainable can you make that dumping and hauling process for everyone, including the mom and pops?”
In this moment: You don’t get the sense that Terrill Haigler is anywhere near the end of this journey. Quite the opposite, actually. He’s busy now, so busy, with his many pickups and the nonprofit, with his community clinics and various partnerships, and yes, with his new business. He seems, at this moment, to be everywhere, on everyone’s radar, from the community activists to socially conscious corporate brands to Philly’s politicos to the Millennial Insta followers. And you can see how that might mean impact on an even larger scale. Haigler hints at the possibilities ahead.
“I am very interested in Philadelphia city government,” he says. “I’m interested in how it works, and how someone like me could potentially make a bigger impact in a position inside.” Which means that — as always — Ya Fav remains one to watch.
By March 2023, that had not worked out as planned. But knowing this guy, don’t be surprised if he turns bad news into something good …
The Philadelphia Citizen is partnering with the nonprofit Keepers of the Commons on the “Generation Change Philly” series to provide educational and networking opportunities to the city’s most dynamic change-makers.
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Terrill Haigler (a.k.a. Ya Fav Trashman) | By Sabina Louise Pierce