Friday, November 28, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Clean-up needs to be more than Philly-wide

Daily News report yesterday showed that Mayor Nutter's much-vaunted spring cleanup efforts earlier this month had had only the most temporary effect in many of the targeted neighborhoods, with dropped litter and dumped trash befouling the areas again, prompting the question of why Philly is full of trash.

Clean-up needs to be more than Philly-wide

Trash at the Cecil B. Moore Rec Center just four days after citywide Spring Cleanup.
Trash at the Cecil B. Moore Rec Center just four days after citywide Spring Cleanup. ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ/Staff Photograppher

A Daily News report yesterday showed that Mayor Nutter's much-vaunted spring cleanup efforts earlier this month had had only the most temporary effect in many of the targeted neighborhoods, with dropped litter and dumped trash blighting the areas again, prompting the question of why Philly is full of trash.

The last word, of course, refers to those people who befoul their own and others' environments by discarding their waste wherever and whenever they please instead of taking responsibility for it and getting it where it needs to go. These people seem to believe that since  it's just a wrapper or a diet coke can it's not a problem and someone else should take care of it for them.

Today's DN editorial, "The City Isn't Your Mother," specifies otherwise: "A block doesn't fall apart with a single candy wrapper, but enough candy wrappers and other garbage signal that it's OK to dump more. That discourages development, the most effective way to reduce vacant and abandoned properties." Litter is a big problem, both environmentally and socially.

Despite the localizing of this grievance I doubt it's in any way Philly-specific (Clean Ocean Action today reported that Jersey Shore litter is at an all-time high). It's just another manifestation of "the toilet assumption," a rather infantile worldview that once we're done with something, it disappears. Our first-world consumerist culture encourages this (un)thinking, though people in poorer cultures often are faced with the contrary evidence.

Two quick points on this: One is that there's a consumer item that is thrown out on the street 99% of the time, and that's cigarette butts. A new study found that these were the number one littered item on beaches and waterways, numbering in the millions. The press release notes:

Tobacco industry research reveals that there might be misconceptions that cigarette filters are readily biodegradable or inconsequential as litter because of their small size. However, in reality they degrade very slowly, and even under ideal conditions can take years to breakdown, merely breaking up into small particles of toxic waste. Other reasons why smokers litter butts include the unavailability of waste disposal facilities and the ubiquitous and unconscious behavior of flicking butts on the ground.

That "unconscious behavior" sounds again like the toilet assumption, which underlies a problem we've mentioned here before: Nuclear waste. We keep generating more and more of it, but to date not one person on the planet seems to have a viable answer for where we're going to put it for the thousands of years before it stops being dangerously radioactive. Yucca Mountain seems to be off the table, so waste is being stored at reactor sites - as at Fukushima, where this turned out to be something of a problem.

What with a new massive dome being found necessary for Chernobyl and authorities now ranking the current nuclear crisis in Japan in that same league of disaster, we need some creative solutions fast. But we're not going to come up with them as long as we're thinking we can make something disappear by just throwing it "away."

About this blog
Earth to Philly is a weblog focusing on earth-conscious technology, trends and ideas, from a Daily News perspective. We look at the "green" aspects of your home, business, food, transportation, style, policy, gadgets and artwork. If you have a Philly-related story, Click here to let us know about it!

The experts at Philadelphia's Energy Coordinating Agency answer your energy questions in our regular feature Stay Warm, Stay Green. Send in your question or questions to energy@phillynews.com.


Look for Jenice Armstrong to supply tips on green living as well as occasional columns on the subject of Green. She also blogs at Hey Jen.


Becky Batcha stays tuned for the here-and-now practical side of conservation, alternative energy, organic foods, etc. - stuff you can do at home now. Plus odds and ends.


Laurie Conrad recycles from her ever-growing e-mailbag to pass along the latest travel deals, fashion statements, household strategies, gadgets, cool local events and other nuggets of interest to those who appreciate a clean, green world.


Vance Lehmkuhl looks at topics like eco-conscious eating, public transportation and fuel-efficient driving from his perspective as a vegetarian, a daily SEPTA bus rider and a hybrid driver, as well as noting the occasional wacky trend or product. Contact Vance with your 'green' news.


Ronnie Polaneczky sees the green movement through the eyes of her 12-year-old daughter, who calls her on every scrap of paper or glass bottle that Ronnie neglects to toss into the house recycling bins. Ronnie will blog about new or unexpected ways to go green. She also blogs at So, What Happened Was...


Sandra Shea and the DN editorial board opine on any green-related legislation or policy. And we'll pass along some of the opeds on the subject that people send us.


Jonathan Takiff will be blogging mainly about consumer electronics - those things that we love to use and that suck too much energy. He'll spotlight green-conscious gizmos made in a responsible fashion, both in terms of materials used and the energy it takes to run them.


Signe Wilkinson draws the comic strip Family Tree, which follows the Tree family as they try to live green in the face of nattering neighbors, plastic-wrapped consumer products, and the primal teenage urge to spend vast quantities of money on hair care products of dubious organic quality.


In addition to these updates from our newsroom bloggers, watch for an occasional feature, Dumpster Diver Dispatches, from Philadelphia's original "green" community of artists, the Dumpster Divers. You'll learn about creative ways to reuse and recycle while you reduce, and about the artists who are making little masterpieces from what others throw out.

  • Dispatch #1: Margaret Giancola's rugs from plastic bags
  • Dispatch #2: Dumpster Divers in City Hall (Art in City Hall series)
  • Dispatch #3: Wild wood, New Jersey
  • Dispatch #4: Dumpster Divers award winners announced
  • Dispatch #5: From sweaters to colorful cuddling
  • Dispatch #6: Green artists retake South Street Sunday
  • Dispatch #7: Isaiah Zagar: He's a Magic (Gardens) Man





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