Philly’s coronavirus response

Trash collection more than doubled in some Philly neighborhoods during the pandemic

Tonnage is up across the city, with the Northwest and far Northeast seeing the biggest spikes.

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Paige Gross / Billy Penn
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Side effect of Philadelphia’s stay-at-home order: more household trash. In some neighborhoods, the amount collected more than doubled compared to last year.

Overall, the Streets Department reported a 23% year-over-year jump in residential waste pickup during the first six weeks of quarantine.

“With more residents generating trash and recycling at home, and residents having more time to spring clean or work on in-home projects, we anticipated our tonnage would increase,” said department spokesperson Kelly Cofrancisco.

 

Though the jump was expected, it’s been hard to handle, since the city is experiencing a sanitation staffing shortage.

On any given day, the Streets Department is missing around 25% of its workers due to coronavirus issues, Cofrancisco said. Combined with larger-than-usual hauls, that led to the decision to switch recycling pickup to every other week, she said.

The household trash increase was seen across nearly all of the city’s sanitation districts, with the exception of a slice of North Central Philadelphia and a section of Lower Northeast Philly, which saw slight declines.

 

The biggest spikes were in highly residential sections of the city, like the Upper Northeast and Northwest, where many houses have lawns or space surrounding them.

“What I would guess is that people in those areas are not ‘leaving,'” said Samantha MacBride, who teaches urban environmentalism at Baruch College and has worked in municipal waste management for more than 20 years. “Because they already are in a setting where they’re able to go outside and work from home.”

That’s in stark contrast to New York City, where trash pickups dropped dramatically in some wealthy areas as residents bolted the country’s coronavirus epicenter.

Trash collection in Philadelphia has risen annually for the past few years From 2017 to 2018, residential tonnage went up by 9%. The following year, it rose again by 8%.

But an increase this large is notable, trash experts say.

“There are always fluctuations in waste generation, but normally it’s very seasonally consistent during the same time period, month to month,” MacBride said.

Philadelphia’s decision to move recycling to an every-other-week schedule didn’t take effect until after the time period shown in this data.

The recycling switch could increase collection numbers even more, since twice a month, some residents are likely tossing in cans, plastic and cardboard with their regular trash instead of waiting an extra week.

After it’s collected by the Streets Department, Philly’s trash is dropped at landfills or sorting facilities by private company Waste Management, Inc. Soon, the city might have to pay more for the service. The Houston-based company told the Wall Street Journal it’s considering rate hikes since there’s so much more residential trash being produced than usual.

Want some more? Explore other Philly’s coronavirus response stories.

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