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Update, Oct. 19: The Kickstarter for “I’m Cool Too,” Terill Haigler’s forthcoming children’s book, has surpassed its goal of $10,500. The fundraiser will continue to run through Nov. 17 to cover other costs related to printing and circulation.
Clean streets advocate Terril Haigler, better known as Ya Fav Trashman, is writing a children’s book about what he knows best: trash. Titled “I’m Cool Too” and set to release in April 2022, the book came out of conversations with his own children.
“My kids inspired [the dialogue] in the book. There’s this one conversation where the son is like, ‘You’re a sanitation worker? How corny is that? Why can’t you be a police officer or a pilot?'” Haigler recalled. “My job is just as important as those,” he told them. “You just don’t understand it yet.”
The book covers the work of sanitation workers, a look at littering, and why clean streets matter. After writing it over two days in early September and working on illustrations with Philly-based artist Deborah Tyson, Haigler is running a Kickstarter campaign to cover printing costs.
The goal is $10,500 to start, with over $8,300 raised within the first week. Haigler plans to fundraise through November 15, with the hope of getting the book in the hands of 30,000 children across the city.
Haigler sees “I’m Cool Too” as a step toward a zero-litter Philly by 2025, a mission he’s been making steady progress toward since Ya Fav Trashman became a social media phenomenon at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the months since, he’s raised thousands of dollars for better sanitation equipment, hosted a slew of neighborhood cleanups, and developed an app that pays people to pick up trash.
Still, Haigler maintains the best shot we have at a cleaner city is by educating the next generation on the power of a trash-free block. Clean streets have long been linked to safer neighborhoods and more community engagement, with a 2018 Philadelphia-based study finding a 29% reduction in gun violence on blocks where trash was removed from vacant lots.
“It’s a way to change behavior and get kids thinking about the environment now,” Haigler said. “If you have a 4 or 5-year-old bugging you every time you throw something on the ground, you’re going to stop doing it.”
The book will also double as a Where’s Waldo-esque scavenger hunt. Haigler is offering the chance for 20 local businesses to get their logos hidden Easter Egg style, with a QR code on the back for parents to learn about each company. Who’s already signed on? Circle Compost, the private waste removal company heading the city’s first free composting program, and Glitter, Haigler’s app.
The pandemic unveiled longstanding problems within the sanitation department as trash covered city blocks from summer 2020 onward. Trash delays triggered a cycle of staffing shortages as sanitation workers were forced to take on grueling overtime shifts without hazard pay. Things came to a head in July when Haigler led a protest outside the Municipal Services building, but streets aren’t much cleaner, and the city has been ticketing residents for trash on their sidewalks, despite not picking it up on time.
Haigler says his book is about explaining the intersection of these problems to children so they can understand that respect — for the environment and the people who work to keep it clean — is essential.
“Everybody deserves to live on a clean street, right?” Haigler said. “I just want people to realize that if sanitation workers aren’t doing their jobs, and we aren’t appreciating them, then we’d be in a world of trouble.”