How are we still talking about trash pickup in Philadelphia?
Once again it is July, and we are asking Mayor Jim Kenney to pick up the damn trash.
Like clockwork, the increase in trash over the summer has resulted in delays across the city. Heat and humidity have worsened this situation, making going out your door an unpleasant experience, with the stench and moist air combining to make the city smell like a combination swamp and landfill. Despite having a year to prepare, the city once again had no plan to meet the expected summer surge in waste.
This comes on the heels of Monday’s news that the city is delaying the much-needed citywide implementation of street sweeping beyond the end of Mayor Kenney’s term.
The result is that broken glass permeates crevices in sidewalks across the city, making it dangerous for children and animals. The stench of trash lingers and the term Filthadelphia has never seemed more apt.
As a result, the city continues to lean too heavily on sanitation workers, with months-long mandatory overtime for an already grueling job. This situation is untenable, leading to injuries among the workforce, further sapping available personnel. City spokespeople say that high rates of absenteeism are to blame, but it isn’t surprising that workers are calling out on their sixth 10-hour workday that week, after months of this taxing schedule. The city should consider that, in the words of former sanitation worker Terrill Haigler, popularly known as @yafavtrashman, these folks might not be physically able to get out of bed in the morning.
Additionally, collecting trash is one of the jobs that is predominantly staffed with Black workers. During the pandemic, these workers have faced grueling conditions — many of them contracting the virus on the job — while the city’s white-collar workforce has worked from home and even received temporary hazard pay to do so.
To deal with the city’s trash issues, the Streets Department should investigate alternative methods of trash collection, and find what works best for our neighborhoods.
In Edinburgh, Scotland, the city’s rowhouse neighborhoods don’t put their trash out on the street, they have communal bins every 100 meters. The bins make trash collection more efficient and less labor-intensive, and could reduce the need for constant overtime.
In Austin, Texas, residents rent specialized household trash bins from the city. These bins are emptied by the truck and use smaller crews. This reduces injuries to workers, as they are protected from directly handling hazardous material.
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Philadelphia might require a mixed strategy, with Overbrook and Mount Airy using rented bins, and East Passyunk and Fishtown hosting communal bins. We don’t know yet because we haven’t investigated.
What we do know is that the status quo isn’t working. The city is asking too much of not just our trash collectors, but our residents, too. The city already relies on residents to clean parks and playgrounds, fund schools through Friends groups, adjudicate zoning and transportation decisions, and fight gun violence. Now, the Streets Department is asking residents to drive their own trash to the dump. Enough is enough. The Streets Department must finally take Philadelphia trash collection out of the dark ages, for everyone’s sake.