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Open Dumping in Philadelphia: A Guest Essay by Shari Hersh

We can end dumping by 2028!

Why are dumping and “fugitive litter” so pervasive in Philadelphia right now? Clean Philadelphia NOW is an alliance to champion the campaign for adequate waste collection, litter abatement, and the prevention and elimination of open dumping in Philadelphia forever. Ours is a campaign with a common resolve: to demand the resources and support to keep our neighborhoods and our city clean. The pervasive dumping problem in Philadelphia has disproportionate effects on marginalized communities and is one of the largest environmental justice issues in Philly. It impacts us all. Dumping and fugitive litter are the outcomes of a consumptive culture where producers are not held accountable for the disposal of their goods (including the packaging) coupled with systems that have failed to modernize and counter the growing threats of climate change. Much to our surprise we found dumping can be solved.

The residents of Philly want clean, green, and healthy spaces to live and raise their children.

To read about how to prevent dumping and end the cycle of clean-ups, read our platform here and add your name to the petition.

Fatigued from the endless cycle of clean-ups, residents of Fairhill and Kensington members of Team Nas are working with the Environmental Justice Department at Mural Arts to more strategically solve the issue of dumping. Members of team Nas formed “Die Dumping Die”, a community performance created to engage folks in efforts for change and to call attention to the issues. Trash Academy undertook an “Implosion” project to understand the systemic drivers of the problem. Ultimately we all joined together with Clean Water Action, residents and neighborhood groups to form Clean Philadelphia NOW to share best practices and build a solutions oriented platform to end dumping. We also joined together with others to form Waste Free Philly for comprehensive change.

In August, 2021, Trash Academy convened a group to trash-pick and investigate materials at Revolution Recovery, waste management facility and recycling center for construction and demolition (C&D) materials in the Tacony section of North Philadelphia. C&D waste is a large percentage of what is habitually dumped in vacant lots and underpasses throughout Philadelphia. The group included fourteen waste management practitioners, block captains, artists and activists, and with significant feedback from the community including local groups addressing dumping, architects, and Licenses and Inspection (L&I) we pieced together a picture of the larger systems at work. We took a deep dive into drywall to understand dumping the research is captured in a poster which has been circulated and viewed by thousands. The poster can be viewed in full and downloaded here.

Some highlights of our solutions to PREVENT DUMPING

1.Improve citywide municipal systems collection system including re-introducing bulk pick-up. Increase diversion and material recovery:more returnables, composting and recycling.

2. Redirect construction and demolition (C&D) waste such as allowing small haulers to dump at convenience centers (to capture clean-out dumping). It is cost prohibitive for small haulers to dump legally as they are charged a full tipping fee even for a small load.

3. Redirect construction and demolition (C&D) waste, require the recycling of C&D waste (most demolition is going into the waste system and valuable materials are being incinerated or going to the landfill.

4. Allow vacant lot and dumping site improvement through community intervention and programming by providing resources and access, and permissions, especially through community landcare programs.

Sign our petition and help build a cleaner, forward looking city.

Shari Hersh started TRASH ACADEMY in 2016. Trash Academy, a project of the Mural Arts Environmental Justice Department is an intergenerational collaboratory led by artists, organizers, and residents of diverse backgrounds. We design projects that complicate the issue of trash and deepen people’s understanding of litter, consumption, and waste to shift attitudes to proactively instigate change.

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