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Bags of street litter and curbside trash Philadelphia neglected to pick up as scheduled were relocated Wednesday morning… to the front of the Municipal Services Building.
Led by Terrill Haigler of Ya Fav Trashman fame, a cohort of former city employees, volunteers and residents brought the garbage to the Center City plaza to send a message to Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration: You need to do better at cleaning Philly’s neighborhoods.
“We’re not just complaining, we’re doing something about it,” said Morgan Berman, protest organizer and founder of MilkCrate. “We can at least pick up the litter and have others do it too, and draw attention to the issues.”
The advocates came armed with a list of demands:
- Streets Commissioner Carlton Wiliams, Deputy Commissioner Keith Warren and other deputies must resign
- Officials must perform a full audit of Streets Department processes to develop a better strategy to deal with pickup delays and extra residential waste. They say this could include hiring more full-time sanitation workers or instituting automated collection equipment
- Get trucks with working air conditioning and heat and better PPE for workers
Nic Esposito, former director of the city’s Zero Waste and Litter Cabinet, said he was bringing a few bags of trash picked from a vacant lot in his Kensington neighborhood.
“This is an everyday situation in Philadelphia,” Esposito said. “This shouldn’t be the normal state of affairs, that you can walk out of the house at 10 a.m. and fill two bags of trash.”
The advocates plan to remove the detritus from MSB after their demonstration. But the goal goes beyond making a splashy trash statement. It was also to show the city “just to show how much we can pick up,” said Haigler, who turned Ya Fav Trashman into a platform fundraising for PPE while he was a city sanitation worker during the pandemic.
His next big project tries to address the pickup issue. Along with MilkCrate, he’s launching an app called Glitter.
The promise: help rid Philly streets of trash — since the city is not doing it effectively.
Glitter cleaners make $100 per block per month
MilkCrate’s Berman calls the app the Lyft of litter removal.
It’s funded in part by corporate sponsors like Comcast and ShopRite. The Rounds, a local delivery service for sustainable goods, is one of the first neighborhood sponsors, selecting
Dickinson Narrows in South Philly. It works well, Berman said, because she and Haigler both live there, so they can keep an eye on progress.
For neighborhoods that don’t get sponsored, any Philly resident can request weekly cleanup service on their block. It costs $140 per month, which can potentially be divided among neighbors.
Who’ll do the cleaning? People hired from the community.
They’re expected to visit the day after city trash day, bag all the litter, and then leave it for Haigler to pick up in his truck. They’ll be paid $100 monthly per block they clean. Applications are open, per Berman, with about a dozen submissions so far.
“Most blocks in Philadelphia, after you clean them, people start throwing litter right back on the ground,” Haigler said. “If there’s a consistent presence in that neighborhood, a familiar face you see every week cleaning your block, the hope is — out of respect — you won’t throw trash on the ground.”
Like block captains for the modern era
The whole idea is similar to the Streets Department’s existing block captain program, where responsibilities are supposed to include sweeping walkways and gutters.
Glitter’s founders call that program admirable but outdated, with no modern technology involved and little information about it released publicly. Plus, they said, the city’s litter problem has gotten so bad that it’s no longer an effective solution.
“The city has funded multiple programs to try and do this that have not delivered results,” Berman said. “And we’re living in filth.”
Streets Department spokesperson Joy Huertas defended the city, acknowledging that trash collection services suffered during the pandemic but saying they’re “close to operating on a normal schedule now.”
The city is planning to relaunch Phase II of a street sweeping program in a few weeks, she said.
“The Streets Department has not received a preview of the Glitter app nor anything that validates what its creators proclaim the app is capable of doing,” Huertas said. “Paying people to pick up litter appears to be a novel idea but frankly there are logistical concerns regarding the administration of the program. There is insufficient data to illustrate the ability to reduce litter citywide.”
When Berman first thought up the idea for this app, she pitched it to the Streets Department — but they didn’t end up working together.
”The representatives requested funding to pilot the program which we are unable to financially support,” Huertas said. “The Department informed MilkCrate that they could implement the application however they would need to acquire their own funding to start their business.”
Once they’ve mastered the logistics, Haigler hopes to expand Glitter’s services to provide residents with information, like the dates of neighborhood cleanups and pickup delays.
But both Berman and Haigler also hope the city won’t need their app for long.
“Picking up litter is putting a bandaid on a head wound. We’re not solving the source of the issue with this program,” Berman said. “My honest hope is that this is a short-lived thing that Glitter does, because hopefully we can get real leadership, processes and systems that make this all better.”