South Philly group battles ongoing litter problem

Philadelphians might not like to admit it, but our city is trashy. Philly has a serious litter problem, and cleaning up our act is an ongoing battle that can often be a matter of trial and error. 

Take, for instance, the Passyunk Avenue Revitalization Corporation (PARC), a non-profit real estate development company and public space maintenance organization. PARC spends $275,000 annually – roughly 40 percent of its budget – on litter pick up. 

When the city replaced Passyunk Avenue’s wire trash bins with Big Belly trash compactors, PARC’s Executive Director Samuel Sherman purchased 30 of the retired wire baskets and installed them around the avenue. Soon, though, residents were filling the bins with household trash to the point that the bins overflowed and added more litter to the street. At one point someone propped a couch up against one of the wire baskets. 

As the Philadelphia Daily News reported last summer, Sherman estimated maintaining the bins was costing the organization about $30,000 annually.

Since then PARC has taken down most of the wire bins. Instead the focus is on dedicated litter pick up. 

Less litter

Twice-a-day, six days per week a dedicated street cleaning team sweeps up litter along Passyunk Avenue. The team fans out into the immediate neighborhoods by zone and by day. All of this is made possible through PARC’s contract with facilities management company ABM. 

Sherman said the litter problem is endemic in the city and that cleaning up Passyunk Ave has been a decades long endeavor. Through its focused litter management strategy, though, PARC seems to be making some progress. 

“The one thing is trash begets trash,” Sherman said. “We’re finding … the litter problem is not as bad as it used to be because people realize [Passyunk Ave] is clean.”

Sherman attributes much of the litter clean-up’s success to the dedicated ABM crew. 

“All of the guys we employ are from the neighborhood so they’re proud of the work they do and impact they’re having,” he said.

While PARC has made progress reducing Passyunk’s litter, the trash problem is still something Sherman says he can’t put his finger on.

“It just seems as though people just throw garbage on the ground,” he said. “It’s a cultural thing, and how do you change that?”

Working with civics 

Sherman said local civic groups do work to hold neighborhood clean ups and educational programs but that the work is endless. 

One of those groups is the Passyunk Square Civic Association (PSCA). A few months ago, PSCA joined PARC’s contract with ABM. Now twice a week, two dedicated employees work from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and clean the parts of the PSCA neighborhood not covered by PARC’s original contract. 

The team covers 6th to 9th streets from Washington to Tasker streets, and 9th to Broad streets from Washington to Federal streets.

“The thing that’s really important to me is the fact that we chose to do something about [the litter],” she Carmella Fioretti, a PSCA board member and part of the trash and recycling committee. 

“It is really critical because everyone can complain about litter all [they] want, but [you have to] do something about it.”

Fioretti said litter levels still vary throughout the neighborhood.

“It is block by block, and it’s contingent on what the traffic pattern is coming from the subway, bus routes, that kind of thing,” she said.

But Sherman says it’s bigger than that. 

“What you’re really dealing with here is the [city’s] inability to provide the level of cleaning that we provide,” he said. 

Sherman encourages other neighborhoods working to clean up their act and cut down on litter to get neighbors together for occasional clean ups and block parties. That, he says, helps change people’s perception of the area. 

“If you get 50 to 60 people out, you can have a huge impact,” he said. 

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