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August 07, 2017

Long derided as filthy, Philly unveils waste reduction plan

City officials aim to eliminate use of landfills, incinerators

Environment Trash
Carroll - Garbage Truck in Center City Alley Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

A garbage truck in Center City Philadelphia.

Philadelphia has long been derided as "Filthadelphia" for the unsightly amounts of litter that accumulate throughout the city.

Vacant lots often are piled with trash. Garbage collection days can result in trash blowing across neighborhoods. And illegal dumping remains a real problem.

But by 2035, city officials hope Philly is filthy no more.

The city's Zero Waste and Litter Action plan, unveiled Monday by Mayor Jim Kenney, aims to eliminate the use of landfills and conventional incinerators by 2035. And it also includes recommendations for reducing the litter that dirties various streets, parks and waterways.

"Philadelphia disposes of nearly one ton of waste for each of our 1.5 million residents," Kenney said in a statement. "So while everyone knows cleaning up litter is important, we also have to concentrate on reducing waste before it has the chance to become litter." 

Some 46 percent of Philadelphia's solid waste is recycled, according to the plan. Another 28 percent is converted from waste to energy. The remaining 26 percent is landfilled.

The plan calls for reducing waste generation and increasing waste diversion by 90 percent by 2035. Only 10 percent will be utilized as waste to energy.

It calls for increased recycling and waste diversion efforts at both municipal and commercial buildings throughout the city, as well as at public events. City officials intend to explore organic material collection and increased access to non-single stream recycling.

The city will launch educational programs aimed at promoting proper recycling and composting and offering incentives for residents participating in waste diversion efforts.

About 60 percent of the city's waste is generated by the commercial sector, according to the plan. Residential areas produce 25 percent of the city's waste. The remaining 15 percent is the result of construction and demolition.

To reduce litter, the city will stiffen penalties against illegal dumping, require waste plans on Licenses and Inspections permits and consider banning plastic bags, among other priorities.

City officials also launched a website,, that includes a "litter index" rating the amount of litter at locations across the city. 

The four-point index ranges from "No Litter" – an area with less than five pieces of litter on the entire block – to "Extremely Littered," an area that would require a large group of people, if not heavy machinery, to clean up.

Residents also can use the website to connect with organizational resources and find engagement opportunities.

The plan was produced by the city's Zero Waste and Litter Cabinet, which formed after Kenney signed an executive order last year to improve sustainability.