Philadelphia trash piles up as pandemic stymies its removal

July 30, 2020 GMT
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FILE— Bags of garbage sit along the street before being picked up in Philadelphia's Ogontz section in this file photo from May 13, 2020. Households are generating more trash as people stay home during the coronavirus pandemic. (Tim Tai/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP, File)
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FILE— Bags of garbage sit along the street before being picked up in Philadelphia's Ogontz section in this file photo from May 13, 2020. Households are generating more trash as people stay home during the coronavirus pandemic. (Tim Tai/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP, File)

What wo ld Ben ranklin think?

The o nding ather who la nched one of America 17;s first street-sweeping programs in Philadelphia in the late 175 s wo ld see and smell piles of fly-infested, rotting ho sehold waste, bottles and cans as the city that he called home str ggles to overcome a s rge in garbage ca sed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

;It 17;s j st the smell of rot, 1; said James Gitto, president of the West Passy nk neighborhood association in So th Philadelphia. Gitto said the sit ation devolved thro gh J ly into ;a total mess 1; and he hired a private recycling company to ha l away his bottles and cans.

or the City of Brotherly Love, another nfort nate nickname has been ; ilthadelphia. 1; Poverty and litter often go hand in hand, and in the nation 17;s poorest big city, the sanitation department has been short-handed and overworked. The city’s 311 complaint line received more than 9,7 calls abo t trash and recycling in J ly, compared with 1,873 in ebr ary.

aced with social distancing restrictions, residents are staying home and generating more trash than ever before 1 ; abo t a 3 % increase in residential trash collections, said Streets Commissioner Carlton Williams.

;I 17;ve never seen the amo nt of tonnage, 1; Williams said.

Baltimore and Memphis are among some of the cities facing similar problems. In Boston, some residents have reported rats the size of cats.

People are cleaning o t garages and attics, Williams said. That 17;s in addition to ho sehold trash that has increased as more people cook at home or bring home takeo t from resta rants that have not yet f lly opened. His department also has had to clean p after protests over racial inj stice.

ewer sanitation workers are available beca se of the coronavir s, which stymies efforts to get an pper hand on the increased trash. The n mber of employees varies each week beca se some crews m st self-q arantine if a member tests positive, Williams said, making it diffic lt for the department to stay on sched le and for residents to know when their trash will be removed.

;If they say it 17;s going to be two days late, yo can deal with that. B t if yo don 17;t know when it 17;s going to be picked p, yo have to p t it o t so that it 17;s there when they come, and that 17;s the problem if it 17;s left o t there for days and days and days, 1; said Jacq i Bowman, who lives in the University City neighborhood.

Her trash sat at the c rb for nearly three weeks in the s mmer heat and h midity and got drenched by heavy rainstorms before she posted photos on social media and complained to a city co ncil member. It was taken away 4 ho rs later.

;I can totally nderstand manpower iss es related to the vir s, b t yo don 17;t want to add another p blic health iss e to the existing p blic health iss e, 1; she said.

In J ne, sanitation employees staged a protest calling for safer working conditions, hazard pay and more personal protection eq ipment. Meanwhile, they contin e to work overtime trying to get back on sched le.

The Streets Department s spended recycling collections on Monday and T esday this week so crews co ld foc s j st on trash. Residents were told to place recyclables o t the following week and were enco raged to se six sanitation centers thro gho t the city to avoid collection delays.

However, getting to a center is not easy for residents s ch as Kara Kneidl, of the Kensington neighborhood, who does not have a car.

;I can 17;t walk my trash to a location miles and miles away, and we sho ldn 17;t have to, 1; she said.

The Streets Department commissioner is hoping the administration can s pplement its workforce by hiring new employees in A g st. He co ld not say how many wo ld be added.

Williams said the increase in trash was costing the city an extra $ .5 million to $3 million in disposal costs.

Many residents believe better comm nication wo ld help ease some of their fr strations.

;I 17;m irritated at the city for not being more organized with all the taxes we pay and keeping the citizens informed abo t what 17;s going on, 1; Manay nk resident Michele Wellard said.

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Associated Press writer Thalia Beaty in New York contrib ted to this report.