Philly’s trash problem was already bad. Now, it’s worse

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Some city residents say they are fed up with delayed trash collection. The city says sanitation workers are worked harder than ever, due to more people staying home and making more trash. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Some city residents say they are fed up with delayed trash collection. The city says sanitation workers are worked harder than ever, due to more people staying home and making more trash. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Sidewalks in Philadelphia neighborhoods are covered with plastic bags full of trash that haven’t been collected in a week. It’s rotting. It smells. It’s full of holes. And nobody knows when it’s going to get picked up.

The city blames the pandemic, which has caused more people to stay home and make more trash, along with a shortage of sanitation workers as the main reasons trash pickup is delayed. But the workers have a different view.

What’s going on? Catalina Jaramillo of WHYY’s PlanPhilly explains why Philadelphia’s trash problem is so much worse now.

Hear the whole story on The Why

Interview highlights

Catalina Jaramillo on increased number of complaints about trash

In Philly, we usually complain about trash, but these last weeks have been crazy.  So last week I was looking at the 311 complaints and they were double the number that we usually get on trash and recycling. And the week before that, there were 10 times more complaints.

It’s just like a mess. I mean, [the sidewalk] is like covered by plastic bags of trash that have been sitting there for seven days. It’s rotting. It smells really bad. You can see maggots. You can see like little holes of like dogs or cats or birds — I’ve been seeing a lot of birds in the trash lately. And then some the  bags get broken and then the wind comes and blows everything around. The same happens with recycling; there’s no lid on the containers. So if there’s some wind, like everything goes around. It just creates more litter everywhere.

Mayor Jim Kenney on why there’s so much trash

We produce a lot more trash and garbage than we would have if we were going to work every day…If anybody’s not noticed that it’s been hot. And it’s just this is a historic pandemic and financial depression. I mean, I think our workers doing a pretty good job right now.

Catalina Jaramillo on where sanitation workers say the blame lies

I spoke with Omar Salaam. He’s a representative with the union that represents more than 1100  sanitation workers. And he says the real problem is mismanagement [by the city]. He says the weather is just an excuse. And he also acknowledges that, although there is more trash because we are staying at home, that only means that you need more people and more trucks collecting that trash, which is something that has not happened.

He says it’s because of mismanagement that [sanitation workers] are getting sick because they’ve been asking for PPE since even before COVID happened. They have 100 workers who have tested positive. That’s 10 percent of the workforce. They have been provided with some kind of mask. But one sanitation worker showed one of our reporters, Ximena Conde,  the mask that was given by the city. And it looked like it was like a party mask, like made of polyester. 

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