Trash on your Philly block: How you - and the city - can get rid of it

Sanitation enforcement officers investigate when residents complain to the city’s 311 hotline about trash. In this photo from October 2017, supervisor Willie Hamilton inspects a pile of trash along the 3200 block of Jasper Street in Kensington.

Our city has long struggled with trash, and sometimes it’s hard to tell who’s responsible for cleaning it up.

Maybe it’s a dirty mattress left on the sidewalk. Or garbage collecting in storm drains, or the vacant lot nearby. Or trash bags someone dumped outside your home.

Here are some basic answers about what you and the city can do:

What am I responsible for cleaning up?

  • The sidewalk in front of your property — even if someone else left trash there.
  • Your driveway and alley.

What is the city responsible for?

  • Weekly curbside trash and recyclables pickup on your street.

Why doesn’t Philadelphia have street cleaning?

  • The city occasionally sweeps commercial corridors, where some (but not most) residents live. Other blocks are not swept. Prior to budget cuts in 2009, trucks swept every city block weekly.
  • Bringing that service back would cost $5.2 million annually and require a one-time $12 million purchase of equipment, the Streets Department estimates. Mayor Kenney has said he’s hesitant to resurrect citywide sweeping because it would require residents to temporarily move their cars.

What can I report to the city, and how do I report it?

  • You can report pretty much any trash-related issue: illegal dumping, litter covering your block or storm drains, people leaving trash out too early, garbage overflowing on someone’s property. The Streets Department typically sends out an investigator, known as a SWEEP officer, to issue a warning or a ticket. Depending on the size of the mess and whether it’s on public or private property, a team of workers may be dispatched to clean it up.
  • You can also report a trashy vacant lot. A separate agency, CLIP, will issue a violation notice to the lot’s owner — despite being vacant, many properties are still privately owned. If that doesn’t work, the city will perform the cleanup and bill the owner. This process can take several months.
  • To report any of these issues, file a complaint to 311 on the iPhone or Android app, or on your desktop. You can also call 311, tweet @philly311, or message them on Facebook. If the problem remains, contact 311 again with your case number and have them elevate the complaint.

How can I get supplies from the city to clean up my block?

  • The Community Partnership Program has more than 2,000 brooms, rakes, shovels, gloves, bags, and other tools that residents can borrow for free — though only for group cleanups, not individual use. How many supplies you receive depends on the number of people involved in the cleanup. The city says the application for supplies takes only a few days to process, meaning you can submit it the same week as your cleanup.
  • Become a block captain. You’ll need signatures from half your neighbors. You can also request a trash can, in the form of a wire basket, for your block. The city will unload the basket on trash pickup day, but if people improperly stuff it with household garbage or larger items before then — as often happens — you’re responsible for removing them.
  • You can check if you have a block captain by visiting cleanphl.org or calling the Philadelphia More Beautiful Committee at 215-685-3981. Unfortunately, even if your block has a captain, the city won’t provide that person’s name. You have to give your contact information, and the city will ask the captain to reach out to you.

I need to get rid of trash or bulky items before pickup day. What should I do?

  • This depends largely on whether you have access to a car. If so, bring the trash to one of the city’s six sanitation convenience centers, open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day except Sundays and holidays. The following items also must be brought to the centers — or be picked up by a private hauler:
      • TVs, computers, and computer-related equipment
      • Appliances such as refrigerators, hot water heaters, stoves, and washing machines
      • Tires
      • Furniture with metal frames (compactable furniture, such as a sofa without metal frames, is still accepted curbside)
      • Unwrapped mattresses and box springs (if you leave them curbside and want them picked up, they must be wrapped in plastic mattress bags).
  • If you can’t access a car or afford a private hauler, your options are limited. The Streets Department is exploring possible solutions, such as picking up large items for a $25 fee or parking a sanitation truck in a neighborhood once a month and allowing residents to bring out their trash.
  • The owners of buildings with 10 or more units must provide a trash container and a recycling container that tenants can use outside of trash pickup day, according to a law passed in 2015. If your building owner is violating this law, report it to 311.

What’s the proper way to leave recyclables on the curb? (A lot of people get this wrong).

Didn’t find an answer to your question? Or have a story about trash on your block? Email us: mboren@phillynews.com or jterruso@phillynews.com.