For Philadelphia to improve across the board, citizens need to think twice before trashing anything.
On Monday of last week – my trash day – I walked past an opened package of hot dogs, only one removed, spilling out from a white, plastic garbage bag. As the week wore on, more trash bags began to accumulate in front of the stoops on my block, joining the uneaten hot dogs as more disturbing scenery for my everyday stroll.
Of course, the snow was to blame for the condensed collections of waste displayed throughout Philadelphia last week – instead of picking up trash, the city’s trucks and workers were busy plowing 2,275 miles of the street system – but we can’t blame anyone but ourselves for the amount of waste that amassed.
Between June 2008 and June 2009, “the Philadelphia Streets Department collected 75,060 tons of household waste,” according to a Philadelphia Inquirer report.
Though the city’s household recycling rate increased from 5.3 percent to 12.4 percent in the same year, a majority of residents’ leftovers are dumped into landfills, such as the Bucks County Tullytown and Morgantown landfills, or burned in incinerators.
But who cares? Once our spaghetti-stained paper towels and empty Lucky Charms boxes – which can be recycled, by the way – have been buried in soil and our kitchens are left tidied, we’re off the hook. But living by the mantra, “Out of sight, out of mind,” is getting old, and frankly, it’s making living conditions worse for everyone.
Instead of spending state money on improving transportation, education, homelessness and – maybe you’ll care more about this if you’ve slipped on ice or had to dig your car out of the snow – budgeting for snow removal, dollars are being wasted on landfill tipping fees and trash pick up.
Currently, the idea of biweekly trash pick up is terrifying – Philadelphia streets are filthy enough – but Christopher Linn, the senior environmental planner for the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, an organization that advises member governments on the interaction between the environment and the economy, said if Philadelphians could consume less, biweekly trash pick up could be put into affect as a result, and – get this – it would actually be a good thing.
“When it was done before, [biweekly trash pick up] was because of budget cuts,” Linn said, meaning if it were instated because weekly trash pick up wasn’t needed, it would show that Philadelphians are finally realizing their impact on the city, which is imperative for the DVRPC to establish two of its goals: protecting natural resources in order to create livable communities.
Somehow I doubt pouring tons of garbage into the earth is considered protecting anything, and it certainly isn’t beautifying Pennsylvania.
“We have a limited capacity to accumulate waste,” Linn noted.
Large budgetary figures regarding how much money goes into what may seem insignificant to some. We want results, but most do not realize that many problems are created by our actions.
“In order to look toward the future,” Michael Boyer, the manager of long-range planning and economic coordination for DVRPC, said, “we want to correct a few things that are happening right now.”
Therefore, lifestyle decisions, such as buying in bulk to reduce the number of individual wrappers used or abiding by common tips like using reusable water bottles and containers, are the small solutions we can enact. Be selfish: Don’t think about it in terms of helping the environment – a vast, faceless being that hardly evokes sympathy – think about it in terms of helping yourself and if you have compassion, those in the community.
Ashley Nguyen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.