Several things recently highlighted my extreme frustration with how Philadelphia and its citizens handle trash.
First, the snow finally melted, revealing all the litter that was hiding underneath. Second, I participated in a volunteer project through my employer to pick up and dispose of trash - mostly plastic bottles - that washes up on the Camden waterfront each day. And third, I came home one night to find that our neighborhood's trash hadn't been collected that morning as scheduled. Neighbors and passers-by had an entire day and evening to add their coffee cups, dog-poop bags, and discarded Lorenzo pizza slices to what are already poorly bagged and collected trash piles outside our homes and businesses in Queen Village.
I grew up in South Jersey but have always considered Philadelphia home. I remember one of my first days in town, after moving to Philadelphia from Washington. I was walking down Broad Street, not far from City Hall. I watched a man throw trash from his car window with no regard. I couldn't believe it.
With his window still open in the mild air, I asked sternly: Did you really just litter? He looked at me, surprised that someone had called him out. But he shrugged his shoulders and said, "We're in Filth-Adelphia." Then he drove away. I was stunned. It was as if this were something beyond his control.
Is that really how we want to be known? As Filth-Adelphia? Or as the residents who don't care, who shrug it all off with an "it's not my problem" attitude?
We can do better. We should want to do better.
Elected officials seem aware of the issue, but the recent City Council proposal to require that businesses and residential units provide trash and recycling receptacles outside of their properties doesn't address the root of the problem. And the discussion among Council members didn't come close to asking the right questions.
I don't have all the answers. But I know we have a problem and I know we should be serious about finding solutions. The proposed legislation, Council's response to it, and what I see around me in this city demonstrate that we are not even willing to try.
When you litter on the street, throw trash down a sewer drain that empties into the Delaware River, or don't properly bag the trash you put out to be collected, you are disrespecting the people around you. You are disrespecting the people who have to step over your litter, the people who have to watch our trash wash up on their riverbank, and the people who have to clean up after you, from trash collectors to street sweepers to your kind neighbor - me. We pick up your trash because you won't.
Let's do better. Let's live and work in a city that respects the spaces we occupy and the people who help keep it clean.
Melissa Jane Donnelly is a writer in Philadelphia.