We Can End the Garbage Deluge
Two signs that Philly's leaders are ready to make use of two solutions to the trash crisis
Illegal Dumping. On April 22, the Philadelphia Streets Department launched a new event series called “Keep It Clean Fridays.” Every Friday, Commissioner Carlton Williams joins one of his illegal dumping cleanup crews at a dumpsite. There, he talks to an audience via Facebook livestream, discussing the scale of illegal dumping in the city, stressing that the government can’t tackle the issue alone, and highlighting examples of concerned citizens who are “doing their part.”
During the first livestream on April 22, Williams noted that the Streets Department is actively working to ramp up enforcement around illegal dumping in order to reduce the volume of waste flooding into, primarily, Philly’s poorest neighborhoods. He indicated that they’re working with the Police Department and the District Attorney’s Office to increase arrests and enforce existing penalties for illegal dumping. As part of this attempted crackdown, Williams mentioned that they’ll be installing more surveillance cameras to catch dumpers in the act. The problem with installing more cameras, however, is that existing surveillance cameras churn out far too much footage for any human being to monitor manually. Cameras alone, then, aren’t enough — the city also needs a way to make better use of the footage it already has.
Litter. On April 29, while Williams was filming his second Keep It Clean Friday, Mayor Jim Kenney was having a meeting with Pennsylvania State Senator Art Haywood (4th District). During that meeting, Haywood brought up Glitter, a street cleaning startup company with the potential to provide a sorely needed supplement to the city’s litter removal services. According to Haywood’s office, Kenney agreed to “look into it.” However, it’s worth noting that the city has been aware of Glitter for years, and has so far declined to give it financial support on the basis that it couldn’t prove it was effective at reducing litter city-wide.
The death of excuses. If an illegal dumping crackdown hinges on a method for making better use of surveillance footage, and support for Glitter hinges on proof that it can reduce litter city-wide, then… man, do I have an article for you. Here’s a piece I wrote for The Philadelphia Citizen establishing that both the method and the proof exist; the only question is what Williams and Kenney will do about it.
Concerned citizens are great. It would be great if we had more of them, but we already have a ton. There’s Ya Fav Trashman, the Cobbs Creek Park Cleanup crew, an entire network of block captains all throughout the city. There’s Jose Ferran Jr. and The Big Cleanup and Susquehanna Cleanup/Pickup. There’s Raymond Gant and I Love Thy Hood and Kelly O’Day. There are undoubtedly dozens more groups and individuals to add who’ve been written about by someone at some point in time, and there are all the folks who labor in obscurity.
The fact is that the scale of illegal dumping and litter in Philadelphia outmatch the capabilities of concerned citizens. New technologies have opened up exciting possibilities for solving problems outside of established institutions, but to truly get a handle on our trash crisis, we’re going to need the city to step up. They have the talent, they have the ideas, they have the resources. All that’s missing is the leadership. If the Kenney Administration can’t provide it, well, 2023 is just around the corner. We can end the garbage deluge, but we’ve got to find a way to elicit stronger leadership from the next administration.
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