No one loves the smell of trash wafting through the air. And unfortunately in Philadelphia, it’s become a near daily aroma for residents citywide. Let’s call it our city’s own pandemic perfume.

What’s with the trash?

Delays in Philadelphia trash and recycling pickups have been occurring for months. Depending on your neighborhood, current collection schedules are behind by one to four days, says city Deputy Streets Commissioner Keith Warren. The Streets Department attributes the delays to staffing shortages — a result of sanitation workers calling out sick, an increase in injuries, and quarantining requirements for crews exposed to COVID-19. Union leaders also blame a lack of personal protective equipment provided by the city.

And then there’s the fact that there’s simply a lot more garbage to collect right now. With people spending more time at home, the Streets Department notes a 25% increase, at minimum, in residential trash citywide. The heavier loads are creating seven-day workweeks and also contributing to the uptick in injuries.

What you can do about it

Yes, the current trash situation is frustrating for everyone, and we’re all tired of staring at soggy pizza boxes outside the front window. But until the Streets Department gets collection schedules back on track, there are centers where you can dispose of your own trash. They’re called Philadelphia’s Sanitation Convenience Centers. There are six located throughout the city.

Locations are:

You’ll need to cart your own trash there. But drop-offs are free, and public hours were recently expanded. You can now swing by daily, from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. If you want to avoid crowds, Warren recommends going before 8 a.m. or after 5 p.m., but even if there’s a line when you arrive, the process is typically quick. Warren says you can expect to spend five to 10 minutes moving through the drop-off process.

Philadelphia’s Sanitation Convenience Center drop-off process

Visits to the Sanitation Convenience Center are outdoors. You must wear a mask, and you must show proof that you’re a city resident. The centers are gated. When you arrive, you’ll need to show a valid ID (or a piece of mail with your city address on it) to an attendant. The attendant will then direct you on where to go depending on what kind of trash you’re hauling. The centers are organized into sections for different categories of trash, including regular household trash; recycling; electronics; appliances; bulk items like furniture; yard waste; and tires.

What’s accepted

You’re allowed to drop off regular household items once a day and oversized items once a week.

“We take almost anything as long as it’s not hazardous,” says Warren.

This includes:

  • Household trash (up to 12 bags)
  • Recyclable materials, as part of the City’s Recycling Program
  • Automotive tires (limited to four per day)
  • Bulk items, large metal household items and appliances including items containing refrigerants (limited to two per day)
  • Yard waste (accepted for recycling; must be free of contamination and contained in paper bags)
  • E-waste, including computers, monitors, televisions, and other computer-related equipment
  • Latex- or water-based paint cans (if partially full, add an absorbent material such as cat litter or newspaper prior to disposal to solidify the paint)
  • Mattresses and box springs, unwrapped
  • Christmas trees

Warren says that the centers are temporarily operating under flexible rules, so if you show up with more than what’s normally allowed (see above), the centers may accept it anyway.

“We’ve found some communities have banded together, where the guy with the pickup truck goes around and gathers everyone’s trash, and so we’ll take more than the normal limit,” says Warren. “It’s judged case by case, but if it isn’t for some type of for-profit business, we’ll work with you.”

Commercial contractors and vehicles carrying commercial loads aren’t allowed to drop off trash at the centers.

When to call 311 about trash delays

If you just want to know when to put your trash out, check the Streets Department website’s COVID-19 service updates section. This will inform you about trash and recycling schedules. But note, the exact pickup day is still subject to change.

“The volume of material can vary across the city, making it difficult to predict an exact schedule for pickup,” states the Streets Department website.

The Streets Department is currently asking residents to refrain from calling 311 — the city’s customer service center for nonemergency inquiries — about delayed trash pickups. For recycling, you’re asked to wait at least two days past your originally scheduled pickup day before calling 311.