Philadelphia sanitation crews dedicated Monday to picking up recycling that hadn’t been collected for weeks, and city officials said this week that they are mostly caught up.
But that’s not the case in every neighborhood. In parts of South Philadelphia, recycling hasn’t been collected for four weeks. So the West Passyunk Neighbors Association is taking matters into its own hands. The group will rent two trucks from Home Depot this weekend to get some of that recycling to one of the city’s sanitation centers.
James Gitto, president of the association, said volunteers will pick up recycling for residents who are elderly, disabled, or don’t have their own cars.
“Our goal is not to clean up the neighborhood in any kind of large-scale way,” he said. “We’re really focused on people who are not able to take care of the trash.”
Sanitation crews have struggled to keep up with trash and recycling pickup during the coronavirus pandemic. The city has blamed staffing shortages from workers calling out sick and an increased volume of waste because residents are staying home. Recent weather, including Tropical Storm Isaias, has caused further slowdowns.
Crystal Jacobs, a spokesperson for the Streets Department, said Wednesday that “crews are caught up on the majority of recycling that sat prolonged at the curb from previous weeks.”
Mayor Jim Kenney has said that crews are “back up to speed” with collection. During a news conference Thursday, he said the city has already hired 30 temporary workers to join sanitation crews and will likely hire a total of 150 people.
“There are going to be isolated incidents where people have not had it picked up,” Kenney said, noting that the city will try to respond to resident complaints about missed pickups.
Kenney said he gets “snarky social media messages” complaining about trash but noted that people who improperly bag their waste or throw out inappropriate items are part of the problem.
“We’ve had situations where dead pets — a dog — were left in a plastic trash bag put at the curb,” he said. “People just put stuff out, throw the trash from the top of their step onto the sidewalk, where it breaks open and spreads around and then it’s the city’s fault that the street is dirty.”
As of Wednesday evening, Jacobs said that sanitation crews were still “slightly behind” in some neighborhoods and that recycling may continue to be delayed as the city focuses on trash pickup to avoid issues with vermin.
But Gitto said his neighborhood was still not cleaned up.
“I just can’t see how they catch up this week,” he said as he stood outside Tuesday. “I don’t think they have a full grasp.”
Other residents took to social media to complain about weeks of ongoing delays.
In West Passyunk, with many narrow streets and small houses, recycling has remained on the curbs because people simply do not have space for it on their back patios or inside their homes, Gitto said.
“In a lot of instances it’s been rained on, it’s been peed on by dogs going by,” he said. “It’s not in a condition for people to bring into their rowhomes.”
While the Streets Department has shared updates about whether or not to put out trash on normally scheduled days, residents have complained that those communications are confusing.
Gitto said that he has tried to help share information with residents and block captains in his neighborhood but that mixed information is causing confusion.
“I just hope the city can start to set expectations appropriately,” he said. “My worry about this is that this doesn’t trickle as just a trash issue now, it trickles as a trust issue with our local government. We’ve got enough issues.”