Think your block is one of the city’s trashiest? There’s now a way to check it out.
A citywide litter index launched earlier this month, mapping Philadelphia’s litter problem block by block.
The index is searchable by address and provides a score on a scale of 1 to 4 (1 being hardly any litter, and 4 requiring a large team and heavy machinery), along with pictures and information about trash day and whether the street has a block captain. The city will use the index to annually drive its response to litter issues and to track progress.
Several departments canvassed the city from August through December, and in October, we followed Diane Oliveras and Joe Miranda, sanitation officers for the Streets Department, as they indexed the blocks around 2400 West Sedgley St. in North Philadelphia.
The pair methodically counted every piece of litter on the ground: a faded red Tide detergent bottle, an empty Doritos chips bag, lottery tickets …
“This, I’d give a 2,” said Oliveras. “There’s about 30 pieces and it would take maybe two people to clean it up [at] most. I’d say there’s a high probability there’s a block captain here,” she said.
Oliveras spent two minutes photographing the block, recording its score on a cellphone app.
That’s one of about 24,000 city blocks to canvas. Then it was on to the next block.
“It’s a little mind-boggling,” said Miranda, a former trash collector for 20 years, as he counted the discarded waste a block over. “But we need to put our brains together and figure out what’s going on what can we do in order to get it cleaned up.”
This isn’t the first time the city has done a litter index. In 2007 Philadelphia dispatched workers to survey random blocks. Information was jotted down on pad and paper and typed into an Excel spreadsheet.
This time around, the city has hit every single block. It’s the best way, they say, to get an accurate reading of the issue and to figure out how to address it.
“If you have a 3, we don’t want people to just know ‘Yeah, my block is dirty.’ We want people to have the tools they need to know how to do something about it,” said Nic Esposito, director of the city’s zero waste initiative.
If Oliveras and Miranda see something particularly egregious, they can call the city’s enforcement arm, SWEEP, and notify 311 that something needs to be cleaned up.
It can get discouraging, Miranda said, facing a pile of trash the height of his 6’1″ frame.
“We’ll get this cleaned up and it’ll be back to this again tomorrow,” Miranda said.
Philadelphia is one of 600 cities or towns across the country that conducts litter surveys in partnership with Keep America Beautiful.
But Cecile Carson, its vice president of litter and affiliate relations, said the organization doesn’t rank participating cities on their filth.
“Its very difficult to say we’re going to compare litter in Dallas, Texas vs. Philadelphia because of the different land uses — socioeconomic differences, differences in consumption habits,” Carson said.