Why is Philadelphia so dirty?

Philadelphia is a lovely city in many ways. The largest city in Pennsylvania has a rich history and vibrant culture with a growing economy. But it has challenges, and one of them is its dirty streets and neighborhoods. So, why is Philadelphia so dirty?

Philadelphia is the dirtiest major city in the US. This is due to several reasons such as littering culture and indifference, improper trash packing, insufficient receptacles, no incentives to recycle, shortage of sanitation officers, illegal dumping, and late or skipped days for trash collecting.

However, the city has several programs in its attempt to clean up the street. It spends millions on different programs, including mechanical street cleaning. Here, we discuss why Philadelphia is dirty.

How Dirty Is Philadelphia 

Philadelphia is the dirtiest city in the US based on several surveys. According to a Forbes review, the city scores low in the number of trash collectors, share of electric vehicles, restaurant cleanliness, etc., and finished with a 1.84  score out of a possible 10. However, the city has a better performance in pollution as it scores 6/10. This is likely due to efforts in the state to cut down emissions and increase renewable energy use.

The city hasn’t always been this way. It once had a reputation for cleanliness. This was the city of Benjamin Franklin, who started the first street sweeping program in the country. But it has declined significantly over time. By the 1970s, Philadelphia has earned the unwanted nickname of “Filthadelphia,”

Causes of Dirty Streets in Philadelphia

The common sight of garbage and dirt in Philadelphia streets is traceable to many sources. These include:

1.  Littering Culture Among Residents

One of the major contributors to dirty streets in Philly is those that litter the streets. This seems more of a norm here than in most places in the US. Several residents don’t hesitate to drop whatever they want on the street, regardless of whether it’s a soda can or cigarette butt. Even dog walkers sometimes fail to dispose of the dog’s poop. Instead, they pick them up with plastic bags and leave them there. Sometimes, it’s not even those who live in a particular neighborhood that litters it. It’s the passersby.

However, not all littering is done intentionally. There’s also the case of those who accidentally litter the streets and don’t even notice. It could be the lip gloss that fell from the bag or a crumpled receipt that slipped from the pocket. With over a million people living in Philadelphia, the possibility of this happening frequently is high.

2.  Improper Trash Packing

Trash day in Philadelphia doesn’t necessarily mean the streets will be cleaner. This is usually due to litter falling from the trash-packing vehicles. This ends up causing more dirt on the street. Sometimes, the trash collectors don’t pack all the trash, leaving leftovers that end up dispersed if they come back to pack it. Of course, the trash collectors sometimes have someone to pick up the flyaways. But this isn’t all the time.

3.  Late or Skipped Days

Garbage sometimes accumulates for too long on the streets and starts to disperse. This is especially common during the winter. The trash collector might skip a street or come late for pickup. This could be due to reasons such as snow removal in the winter. The residents are sometimes unaware of these schedule changes and still leave their trash out for the week.

When trash and recycling accumulate like this, wind and natural and artificial forces could disperse the litter. Plastic bags are a major source of dirt here. These objects are lightweight, and all it takes to disperse them is a small wind.

4.  Insufficient Trash Receptacles

It’s not everyone that deliberately litters the streets. There aren’t sufficient trash lids and bins outside, and the existing ones get filled easily. Some people even overfill the existing ones. For example, some put paper bags in already filled-up trash receptacles. All it takes is snow, wind, or rain, and the paper bags disintegrate or are blown away.

Even where there are trash cans, they still present a problem for many neighborhoods. Some residents don’t care that not all trash should be in the receptacle. So they deposit hazardous materials or household trash inside. Once filled, people heap their bags of garbage beside it, further increasing the filth on the street. 

5.  Lack Of Incentives to Recycle

There are no incentives for recycling or returning disposable items in Philadelphia. This means that people don’t care much about these items and will dispose of them anywhere since they’re seen as worthless. Incentives such as bottling fees could reduce the rate of littering, especially for recyclable items. But the government canceled its incentive for the recycling program, claiming it’s not sustainable.

6.  Shortage of Sanitation Officers

The Department of Street is responsible for maintaining cleanliness in Philadelphia. But this department is short on employees. This shortage of staff means that the city relies on residents to ensure compliance with trash disposal laws. But most residents find this difficult. Most residents who try to police the proper use of trash cans do it as volunteers. This means they’re likely to stop doing it, too, especially when the demand is too much.

The city also imposed different fines on improper disposal of trash. For example, there’s a $150 fine for household trash disposal in a public trash can. However, enforcing all these laws is difficult. There aren’t enough security cameras to capture culprits when they break these laws.

7.  Illegal Dumping to Avoid Complex Rules

Beyond the improper use of trash cans and littering, illegal dumping is very common here. People dump garbage in illegal places. This is partially due to the complex rules on dumping. For example, there are specialized drop-off sites for garbage such as demolition waste, electronic devices, drywall, etc. But the bureaucracy involved sometimes makes people dump anywhere. In the case of an old mattress, some people dump it in tunnels to avoid the stress of following the rule around disposing of it.

In Conclusion

The trash problem in Philadelphia has been there for decades, and several factors contribute to it. While some of these factors require concerted efforts from authorities, there’s also the need for more people to care about their neighborhoods. It’ll take more than government spending to keep Philadelphia clean.