Solving Philadelphia’s Fugitive Trash Problem

Philadelphia has a serious street litter- dumping – creek trash problem that must be addressed. Philadelphia plastic bags and bottles are being carried by stormwater runoff to our local creeks, the Delaware River – Bay and eventually to the Atlantic Ocean.

Fugitive Trash

We expect our trash to be properly handled, so we can label improperly handled trash as “fugitive trash” because it is trash that escaped our proper trash handling system. We have 3 main sources of fugitive trash:

  • Pedestrian and Vehicular Litter
  • Dumping of Commercial – Construction Debris
  • Dumping of Residential Trash

Much of this improperly handled trash gets carried to our creeks-rivers-Bay-Ocean by stormwater, seriously degrading our water resources.


Stormwater Runoff 

When it rains, stormwater can carry floatable material to the nearest waterway by overland flow or through Philadelphia’s combined or separate storm sewers.


Overland Flow

While Philadelphia has a comprehensive stormwater sewer system (both combined and separate), there are areas where stormwater runs directly overland to a local creek without traveling through as city storm sewer. The area around Tacony Creek Park near Adams Avenue is a good example.

Here we find clear evidence of pedestrian – vehicular litter that builds up along Cresentville Road and Adams Ave. When it rains, much of this litter flows directly to Tacony Creek.


Illegal Dumping

There are many locations throughout the City where irresponsible people dump their trash. In a 2012 survey, the Keep Pa Beautiful organization found 296 illegal dump sites in Philadelphia. We will take a close look at one of those sites.


Site #204 is in a Philadelphia Electric power grid right-of-way where someone has dumped hundreds of used tires as well as other debris.


Residential Trash Dumping

Residents in some areas have been known to use public trash cans for household waste, causing many business and civic groups to remove the trash cans to reduce the local dumping of excess residential trash. When the trash cans are removed, the residents find alternative spots to dump their trash, maybe on a dead-end street, in a City Park, or other location.





Solving Philadelphia’s Fugitive Trash Problem

To solve our fugitive trash problem, we must recognize that it is serious, it degrades our neighborhoods and parks, it causes water pollution problems and it will require a mix of smart, innovative solutions.  The residential dumping – trash can removal example shows that quick fix – simple solutions will not solve the problem. People will just find another location to get rid of their trash if we don’t develop a comprehensive fugitive trash program.

The path to solving our fugitive trash problem starts with  a clear understanding of the magnitude and nature of each source and tailored solutions to specific aspects of the problem.


Here is a slide show of my images.

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