How Mayor Parker proposes to fight litter and illegal dumping

by Sophia Schmidt, WHYY
Posted 3/21/24

Residents and advocates have urged the city to take bolder action to address litter and illegal dumping. Mayor Parker has heard the message.

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

How Mayor Parker proposes to fight litter and illegal dumping


Litter and illegal dumping have plagued Philadelphia neighborhoods for decades.

Residents and advocates have urged the city to take bolder action to address the problem – and it appears that Mayor Cherelle Parker is serious about doing so.

After once again promising to make Philadelphia the “cleanest and greenest” big city in the country, she told City Council that the single largest new investment in her first proposed operating budget is for cleaning and greening the city.

“We’re not getting the basics right, Philadelphia,” she said. “The Parker Administration and this ‘One Philly’ budget right now says, ‘No more excuses’.”

Here’s what Parker hopes the Council will approve funding for.

More capacity to clean up litter and dumping

Parker’s budget proposal includes more funding for street sweeping, curbside trash pickup and illegal dumping cleanups. She’s recommending a total new investment for her ‘clean and green’ initiatives of $36 million next fiscal year – and more than $246 million over the next five.

Parker’s plan would expand the Taking Care of Business cleaning program, which funds community-based nonprofits to pay residents who clean up litter and trash along business corridors. In 2019, she sponsored legislation creating the program while a member of City Council.

Her proposed budget would nearly double the number of corridors covered by the program from the current 83 to 140, hire roughly 150 more cleaning ambassadors, and invest nearly $8 million to extend the cleaning to nearby residential streets.

“Right now, my baby is taking big steps,” she said.

Parker also proposed $18 million for a new cleaning program in residential areas, which would include a dedicated cleaning crew for each council district. The idea garnered a standing ovation from members of Council and others who attended the budget address.

New trash cans and more curbside pickup

Parker said her spending plan would add 1,500 new BigBelly trash and recycling cans – a major expansion over the roughly 500 installed as of August – and staff to empty them regularly. The cans have solar-powered self-compactors, which allow them to hold more trash than traditional cans, but those currently installed are often seen overflowing with trash.

Parker also proposed adding $3 million for a new bulk pickup crew. The city axed curbside bulk pickup for furniture and appliances during the Great Recession, forcing residents to bring large items to a city-run sanitation convenience center or hire private haulers. Restoring curbside bulk pickup was a recommendation made by a coalition of advocacy groups who, last year called on then-mayoral candidates to end illegal dumping within their first terms. 

Parker said her budget proposal also includes $11 million for a pilot program to test twice-weekly curbside trash collection in neighborhoods “most challenged by trash and litter.”

The budget proposal stopped short of expanding the types of waste and haulers allowed to use city-run sanitation convenience centers, which is something advocates have pushed for.  A coalition of groups led by Trash Academy wrote letters to the administration and members of City Council early this year asking the city to open up its sanitation convenience centers to small commercial haulers so they can dispose of debris legally at more affordable rates.

After taking office, Parker promised to make Philly the “safest, cleanest, and greenest big city in the nation.” Advocates for parks and youth sports have high hopes.

More enforcement, but few details

Parker also said her proposed budget includes $6 million to expand enforcement against illegal dumping. She proposed increasing the number of surveillance cameras used to catch people who dump illegally — but did not specify how many cameras her proposed budget would pay for.

Residents have complained that the city’s hundreds of dumping-related cameras have at times done little to curb dumping — perhaps because as of last spring, the city had just five employees combing through the footage.

Parker said her spending plan includes money to hire the staff needed to monitor the cameras and coordinate enforcement. Her five-year plan mentions a new task force to investigate and enforce against illegal dumping violations using staff from across city government — but it’s not clear whether this task force would include additional new hires in other areas.

Parker’s proposed budget will be subject to negotiations as it moves through Council. Residents will get to comment on it during a set of hearings this spring. Once approved by Council, it will go into effect on July 1.