Germantown's new dump truck Credit: Courtesy Jordan Ferrarini

Updated 11:59 a.m.

Last week, Germantown resident Jordan Ferrarini went out and bought a trash truck. Yes, an entire truck.

It’ll not only clean up the streets, he figures, but also give young adults in the neighborhood a way to make money and keep busy.

Ferrarini, who runs Northwest Philly nonprofit Trades for a Difference, then brought in longtime Germantown resident Keith Schenk. As captain of the 100 block of East Bringhurst Street, Schenk is plenty familiar with the neighborhood’s litter problem.

The pair is partnering on a new community trash collection program — once it gets going, they think it might even be able to pay for itself.

“It represents servicing a community on a hyperlocal model,” said Schenk, president of the volunteer group Friends of Germantown Northwest. “It means that people are not going to go underserved, they’re not marginalized, they can see some vitality in their life.”

A ‘subculture’ of litter

Research backs up the correlation between litter and depression. Along with trash scattered around a community comes blight and a sense of hopelessness. Cleanup efforts have been shown to reduce depression by 41.5 percent in a neighborhood.

And of course, Philly’s got a persistent problem with trash. Strewn across neighborhoods in varying degrees of terrible, local litter impacts zoning regulations and even attracts wildlife to the city.

Currently the only major city in the United States without a street-sweeping program, Philadelphia is now piloting one. The city’s also trying out a different program in North Central to gauge whether more trash cans could help reduce the prevalence of litter.

Germantown’s got its fair share — it ranks at a 2.0 out of 4 on the city’s Litter Index.

“The trash in Germantown, it’s a major problem,” Ferrarini said. “It affects a bunch of different dynamics: violence, blight, hopelessness, young people feeling good about themselves in the community.”

“It’s a subculture,” Schenk added, noting that he’s excited to be part of a solution.

Credit: Paige Gross / Billy Penn

Not relying on the city

Through Trades for a Difference, Ferrarini will train six employees to start. They’ll pick up trash between Germantown’s Penn and Seymour streets for 10 weeks.

After that, Ferrarini said he hopes to expand, hiring up to 10 employees and pushing past the initial boundaries. Once there’s a sustainable trash pickup program in place, he’ll work on setting up beautification projects like adding benches and lighting to the neighborhood.

All the work will be done by young people from the community, sourced through the Trades for a Difference nonprofit pipeline.

This isn’t the first Philly neighborhood to take trash collection into its own hands. In 2015, the Newbold CDC founded a similar program, employing folks from the Philly behavioral health nonprofit Horizon House. The trash collectors were folks with developmental disabilities, addiction and those who’ve experienced homelessness.

Last year, the Bella Vista Neighbors Association joined in, using a fundraising campaign to pay for sidewalk and curb sweeping that was staffed by a professional trash collection company.

The group reached its $25,000 goal, enabling members to pick up 10.61 tons of trash.

“This trash program will play a huge role in not having to rely on the [city’s system],” Ferrarini said. “We can be self-sustained. That gives us major leverage to scale and build out capacity.”

Eventually, Ferrarini hopes, the program will pay for itself via rentals of the truck to individuals and construction sites in the area.

Said Ferrarini: “There are little systems that can be adjusted or tweaked, and there’s a need for local orgs to join in on the effort.”

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Michaela Winberg

Michaela Winberg is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn. She covers LGBTQ people and culture, public spaces, and transportation and mobility. She also sometimes produces radio and web features...