Advocates urge Parker administration to let small waste haulers dump at city-run sites

The idea is to give small haulers an affordable, legal disposal option — so they don’t dump construction debris on empty lots around the city.

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Bags of trash are visible on the sidewalk.

Contractor bags spill out onto N. 6th Street in Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

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People fighting illegal dumping in Philadelphia want the new mayor and City Council to change the rules at city-run sanitation convenience centers.

Last week, an advocacy group called Trash Academy launched a letter-writing campaign targeting Mayor Cherlle Parker and several council members, calling for city-run disposal centers to accept waste from small commercial haulers for an affordable fee.

“What we’re trying to do is give the small haulers somewhere that they can dump, without actually having to dump on our streets,” said Lois Williams, a leader of Trash Academy and member of HACE’s Neighborhood Advisory Subcommittee who lives in Philly’s Fairhill section.

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The city’s six sanitation convenience centers currently accept waste only from residents — not commercial haulers. They also ban construction waste, which makes up a significant part of the items dumped in fast-developing neighborhoods.

Advocates say that legal, private disposal options are not cost-effective for small, independent commercial haulers — pushing them to dump the debris for free on vacant lots, curbs, street corners, and sidewalks.

“They are charged the same minimum tipping fee as the big contractors, even though they’re load is much smaller,” Williams said.

For example, a bulk disposal center in North Philadelphia charges a minimum of $100 for construction and demolition waste disposal and a minimum of $150 for mattress disposal — the same fee you’d pay to dispose of one ton of mattresses.

Leonard Rhett, a block captain in Philly’s Olney section, joined a virtual meeting to drum up support for Tuesday’s letter-writing campaign. He said cleanups in his neighborhood are a “repeating cycle.”

“I don’t know how much money they spend coming back out to clean up the same lot over and over again,” Rhett said.

The repetitive nature of cleanups is the reason advocates want city officials to double down on solutions that prevent dumping from occurring in the first place.

The rule change Trash Academy is pushing for at sanitation centers emerged from last year’s Clean Philadelphia NOW campaign to end litter and dumping by 2028, developed by people who lead frequent cleanups in their neighborhoods, nonprofit staffers, and former city officials. The campaign’s other policy recommendations include restarting curbside pickup of bulk items, utilizing city-run security cameras to catch illegal dumpers, and paying residents who currently clean up their neighborhoods for free.

Making all Philly neighborhoods “clean, green, and vibrant” is a significant priority for Mayor Parker, per her 100-day action plan released early this month. The plan does not mention city-run sanitation convenience centers specifically — but promises a “new approach to addressing persistent quality-of-life issues,” announced within the mayor’s first 100 days.

Dallas Herbert, who pushed the city to install cameras to stop dumping in his Lawncrest neighborhood and helped develop Trash Academy’s anti-dumping platform, said he hopes to get commitments from the new mayor before she proposes her first budget.

“Right now is the opportune time for us to do something,”  Herbert said.

A spokesperson for the city Managing Director’s Office thanked the Clean Philadelphia NOW campaign for its “efforts, support and commitment” to ending illegal dumping.

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“We know illegal dumping is one of the most critical issues we face in Philadelphia, and we must consider new and innovative means to address it,” wrote Sharon Gallagher, a spokesperson for the Managing Director’s Office, in an emailed response to questions.  “The new office of Clean and Green Initiatives will be considering a host of waste reduction and disposal strategies for this reason.”

Two years ago, city Recycling Program Director Kyle Lewis told Billy Penn in an interview that providing cheap disposal options for small commercial contractors could become unaffordable for the city.

“We can’t underwrite the cost of people’s business,” she said.

It’s unclear if city officials will come to a different conclusion under the new administration. A new Clean and Green Cabinet that Parker plans to launch will conduct research, make policy recommendations, and utilize data to tackle litter and illegal dumping, reduce waste, and improve recycling rates, Gallagher said.

“Eradicating quality of life issues such as illegal dumping and litter is essential to the mayor’s vision to making Philadelphia the safest, cleanest, greenest big city in the nation,” she said.

Maurice Sampson, eastern Pennsylvania director of the nonprofit Clean Water Action, former recycling program administrator with the city, and member of Parker’s transition team, said the city should launch a pilot program to test the feasibility of opening up the sanitation convenience centers to small commercial haulers, incorporating any costs saved in cleaning up illegal dumping.

“They will always tell you how it won’t work,” he said. “What we need is an honest exploration of how to make it work.”

Billy Penn reporter Meir Rinde contributed to this report.

Editor’s note: Mayor Cherelle Parker’s transition team includes John Salveson of the Salveson Leadership Advisors, LLC, which is helping recruit staff for the administration. Salveson is also chairman of WHYY’s board of directors.

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