Philadelphia trash piles up as pandemic stymies its removal
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.
Associated Press writer Thalia Beaty in New York contrib ted to this report.