The Lead

Advocates call on Philly’s next mayor to commit to zero-waste plan

By: - February 4, 2023 6:30 am
Philadelphia City Hall

Philadelphia City Hall (Adobe Stock/The Philadelphia Gay News)

By Stephen Williams

PHILADELPHIA — A coalition of the city’s waste reduction advocates has called for the next mayor to sign onto a five-point agenda to address illegal dumping, improve recycling and help create jobs for the “circular economy.”

The Waste Free Philly coalition includes groups such as Circular Philadelphia, the Clean Air Council, Clean Water Action, the Plastic Reduction Task Force of Weavers Way, Philadelphia Neighborhood Networks and Clean Philadelphia Now.

“About 90% of plastic never gets recycled,” said Kim Paymaster, chair of the Plastics Reduction Task Force of Weavers Way Co-op. ”Instead, it ends up in a Chester landfill where it is burned, creating pollution. This is a social justice issue. The plastic bag ban was an important first step.”

Paymaster made her comments at a news conference Wednesday for the coalition at Girard College in the Brewerytown section of North Philadelphia. Weavers Way is a member-owned co-op grocery with stores in the Northwest section of the city and Ambler.

As part of the program, a group of children and adults held a symbolic, jazz-style funeral to commemorate the “death” of illegal dumping.

The coalition’s five-point platform is to:

  • Establish a Mayor’s Office of Zero Waste to oversee all waste operations in city government and create a position of deputy streets commissioner for zero waste.
  • Appoint experienced individuals to waste leadership positions.
  • Recommit to the Zero Waste and Litter Action Plan.
  • Establish a plan to end litter and dumping by 2028.
  • Regain public trust in how the city collects trash and recycling.

“Uncollected trash, litter, illegal dumping, plastics that pollute our waterways, and other unnecessary waste is a public health and quality of life issue for Philadelphia’s residents — particularly for Philadelphians in neighborhoods that suffer from poverty and crime,” Paymaster said.

The Rev. Warren Bloom, the only mayoral candidate present at the meeting, said he would commit to the five-point agenda. A spokesperson for Derek Green, another candidate for mayor and a former City Council member, said Green has committed to the agenda, also.

Maurice Sampson, Eastern Pennsylvania director for Clean Water Action, said the city spends about $48 million a year on litter and dumping.

“In the last eight years, recycling has dropped from 22% to 8%, and waste collection has never been so inefficient,” said Sampson, who was the city’s first recycling coordinator in 1985 under Mayor Wilson Goode. “This will only change if the next mayor is firmly committed to changing the culture from waste collection for incineration to collection for recovery for the circular economy.”

Ogbonna Hagins is the owner of Philly Green Man, a business that is an example of the circular economy. Hagins’ business collects sneakers, shoes and clothing that have been thrown away.

“About 2.5 million pairs of footwear are purchased in the U.S. each week,” Hagins said. “About 80% of the footwear that Americans throw out are still wearable.”

Philly Green Man sells the items for about a $1 each to business people in the U.S. from several countries in West Africa and Haiti.

“The circular economy jobs are real,” Sampson said. “It’s not a fantasy.”

According to the coalition’s research, most of the illegal dumping and littering takes place in North and Southwest Philadelphia; the city collected about 7,000 tons of illegally dumped trash in 2018; and plastic waste accounts for 56% of trash removed a year from a 32-mile stretch of the Schuylkill and Delaware rivers.

In addition, the city’s Streets Department disposes of about 1.4 million tons of residential and commercial waste. Of that total, about 55% goes to landfills and 45% is burned in incinerators.

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