Temple, city initiatives yet to reduce trash in North Philly

North Philadelphia residents say litter is still a problem despite city and university cleanup efforts.

The city’s PhilaCan pilot program offers trackable garbage cans to North Philadelphia blocks, including 16th Street near Montgomery Avenue, one of the participating areas. Trash still lines the street on Sunday, the night before trash day. | PHOTO: DYLAN LONG, ILLUSTRATION: CLAIRE HALLORAN / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Both the city and Temple University are continuing to search for ways to curb litter and dumping in the area near Main Campus, where residents have long demanded solutions.

From a program that provides garbage cans to residents, to cameras installed to catch and prosecute illegal dumping, the city is attempting to confront one of the root causes: a lack of receptacles to responsibly dispose of waste that leads residents resorting to leaving trash in the streets. 

Temple officials went back to the drawing board last summer after residents had enough of “the move out,” when students move out of their off-campus apartments and leave pounds of trash and debris along the streets. This spurred the university’s investments in street cleaning programs and an attempt to strengthen community relations.

“The litter problem won’t be solved overnight,” said Alivia Thayer, who lives on 17th Street near Edgley.

Despite efforts by the city and university, trash remains one of residents’ most common complaints. The Temple News explored what the city and university have done to reduce litter and dumping and went out on trash day to ask residents what’s working or what initiatives should be thrown out. 

In November, the Streets Department began testing the PhilaCan program, which provides North Philadelphia blocks with garbage bins that have tracking devices. The program’s boundaries are near Main Campus, between Broad and 18th streets, and Cecil B. Moore Avenue and Cumberland Street. The program is set to expire in two months, but the Streets Department plans to expand to other areas in the city based on the litter index. 

Of the 17 blocks in the eligible area that have signed up to receive the cans so far, nine have received them. The area was selected based on the severity of its litter problem, said Mikel Woods, the assistant to the Philadelphia Streets Department Commissioner. The Zero Waste and Litter Cabinet Progress Report listed the “Temple Area” as one of the regions with the highest Litter Index Score in 2017. 

PhilaCan costs $30,000 and is funded by the state’s litter and recycling initiative under Act 101, Woods said. 

The program is designed to provide garbage receptacles to combat the lack of places for residents to store trash between trash days, which leads to litter, according to Streets Department documents.

“The trash cans are a great idea for trash in our houses, but for the litter [outside,] I don’t think they will work,” said Jack Kidd, whose block on Colorado Street near York received cans from the program.


“People just need to pick up their own trash by their houses,” he added. “If people were more concerned about what their property looked like, they wouldn’t have as much trash on sidewalks.”  

For a block to receive the cans, a resident must sign up and obtain at least 75 percent approval from all the residents on their block. Then, the cans are delivered within two weeks. No blocks have voted against receiving the cans, Woods said, but there are many that have yet to submit applications.

The receptacles are 35-gallon trash bins, equipped with radio frequency identification tags. The tags are linked to specific household addresses. Address labels can be placed on the cans to help further identify them, according to Streets Department documents.

The department suggests residents keep cans secured to their property to prevent theft.  Although, if the cans are misplaced, they can be located and returned to the assigned address by tracking the radio frequency identification tags, Woods said. The Streets Department will not replace lost or stolen cans.  

The Streets Department considers the program a success so far, Woods added. 

“The blocks are a lot cleaner, there’s little to no litter on the ground,” Woods said. “We’re also seeing residents take a lot more pride in where they live.”

Some North Philadelphia residents have mixed feelings about the pilot program.

Anthony Palmer, who lives on Gratz Street near Berks, works for Waste Management. His block doesn’t have the PhilaCan program and didn’t know of any plans on his block to receive them. 

“I’m always picking up trash in front of my house, and I think the trash cans would help take care of some of that,” Palmer said.  

Jacqueline Dowsett, who lives on 16th Street near Montgomery, said her block has the cans but she hasn’t seen any improvement in the amount of litter in the neighborhood.  

“There’s still trash all over the place and nowhere to put it,” Dowsett said. “I don’t think adding more trash cans will solve the problem.” 

The Streets Department also began installing 100 surveillance cameras, which will be implemented by the end of 2019, in areas with high rates of illegal dumping to curb the issue from a criminal justice standpoint. 

Using video surveillance evidence, the city can charge dumping violators fines of up to $5,000 or sentence them to a maximum of six months in prison, The Temple News reported in January. There are currently 15 cameras installed, but none are within a one-mile radius of Main Campus. Temple University Hospital has four cameras in its vicinity, with installations on 11th and 9th streets near Venango and Ontario.

In 2018, the university hired several cleanup crews, including the nonprofit One Day At A Time and JDog Junk Removal & Hauling, a veteran-staffed trash removal service, to increase cleanup efforts during “the move out,” when students living off-campus tend to dump items onto the streets near Main Campus. 

“Part of the problem is we have a lot of short-term people, like students, living here so they don’t have the same care for the neighborhood as the locals,” Thayer said.

The university’s exploration into more cleanup strategies came as a result of opposition to the proposed on-campus stadium, which residents said would exacerbate the issue of students and campus visitors littering and dumping in North Philadelphia.  

Temple has also proposed establishing a special services district spanning Main Campus and the surrounding neighborhood to mitigate trash issues.

A special services district provides additional resources to an area either through private funding or levying taxes. If the university were to establish such a district, it would likely expand trash cleanup and street sweeping and handle concerns related to noise and partying.

“The way we solve the problem is students taking more care of the homes they are renting, respecting the neighborhood and us locals keeping their own trash from getting out of control,” Thayer said.

1 Comment

  1. The value of a clean environment can not be overemphasized. I almost did not allow my son to apply to Temple because I was so shocked and disgusted by the filthy surroundings in North Philly and even on Temole’s main campus. For my family, the drive to Philly was always so depressing, and our disgust with the place remained with us fir the entire four years my student attended Temple. In fact, we have another college age child who has chosen not to apply to Temple because of the trash in North Philly. One of the things students look for in selecting colleges is the beauty of the campus. Everyone needs to work together- both Tempke and neighbourhood residents – to clean up the streets! For change to take place, there has to be consequences. Unless and until anyone caught littering is severely punished, efforts to clean up the street of North Phillyw will go in vain! Hopefully, personal pride in one’s surroundings will cause North Philadelphia residents to clean up their streets.

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