The Kenney Administration and the Philadelphia Streets Department owe the people of Philadelphia an explanation for why residential trash collection continues to be delayed.
That’s not to say they haven’t offered excuses. I’ve grown accustomed to my trash collection being delayed at least a day each week. But by day two of missed collection this past week, and with no obvious reasons why this should occur, I checked the Streets department Twitter, which is the only way to get real time updates as their website’s most recent update is from February. I found a tweet that explained trash and recycling were delayed due to “increased volume” from Memorial Day the week before and “severe rain.”
Of course, the comments reflected the sarcastic resignation that has become a Philadelphian’s only coping mechanism at this point for this situation. Many people questioned how the department could be caught off guard by a holiday that happens each year. Or that a major American city can’t manage collections during rainstorms.
But increased tonnages and staffing issues are excuses that the department has been using since the pandemic began to explain the persistent delays, some lasting as long as a month last summer. So it is unfathomable that over a year later, as our City emerges from the pandemic, the Streets Department cannot figure out how to collect trash on time.
As I have written about since leaving the City as Zero Waste and Litter Director, a major reason why this situation persists is that the Streets Department still cannot figure out how to use technology that the sanitation workers can buy into and feel confident in to better manage collection routes and staffing.
Every hour that trash and recycling sits out on the curb past its collection time is another hour that these materials have the opportunity to become litter. Although some entity needs to do a full study of this phenomenon, the data I have seen reveals that a majority of Philadelphia’s neighborhood litter comes from our trash collection systems. And I can also confidently say that it’s the system, and not the residents setting out the trash or the sanitation workers picking it up, that is to blame.
But ask sanitation management who’s to blame and it’s the residents and labor and the weather and U.S. holidays and who knows what will be the next culprit. Yet when it comes to waste and litter, the time for excuses is running out. The Kenney administration needs to make real, structural changes to how it manages waste and resources to have any hope of tackling larger issues such as climate change, air pollution, and equity.
» READ MORE: Trash piling up? Here’s where you can take it.
This past Monday a group of colleagues and I launched Circular Philadelphia, a capacity-building organization that will grow the circular economy in Philadelphia. Circular Economy means businesses wasting less resources and money, and instead focusing on reduction and reuse of materials to increase sustainability and profitability.
Cities all over the world are adopting the circular economy to gain a competitive edge on the outdated and unsustainable make-take-trash economy, something Philadelphia needs to adopt and that the Philadelphia Sanitation Department should be a part of. But while other cities excel in making this transformation, we can’t even collect our trash on time.
The inefficiency and incompetence of Philly’s current sanitation system is costing our city money, economic opportunities and our quality of life. The Kenney Administration needs to make some drastic changes to the Streets Department because the people of Philly deserve better.
Nic Esposito is the former Philadelphia Zero Waste and Litter Director and is currently Head of Cities at Litterati as well as Director of Engagement and Policy at Circular Philadelphia.