Philadelphia’s Illegal Dumping

Street Trash = Illegal Dumping + Loose Litter + Trash Day Spillage

Philadelphia has a street trash problem that is often mislabeled as a litter problem. We all understand litter, newspapers, soda bottles or snack food wrappers that are tossed on the sidewalk. Unfortunately we tend to use litter for all “street trash”, both gross illegal dumping and the discarded snack food wrappers.

“Street trash” is a better label for the street-sidewalk-vacant lot-park space debris, including: tires, construction debris, TVs, mattresses, bulky items – furniture, residential trash bags as well as pedestrian – vehicular snack food wrappers.

Where do we stand today? Are things getting better or worse?

We can use Philly311 Illegal Dumping service request data to help us understand the trends, types and locations of street trash.

Philly311 Illegal Dumping Data Analysis

The chart below shows the monthly illegal dumping service requests from January, 2015 through December, 2018. There has been a marked increase in monthly illegal dumping requests, with 2016 levels nearly 35% greater than 2015 levels, 2017 was 15.8% greater than 2016 and 2018 was 22.4% greater than 2017.


Philly311 Illegal Dumping Service Request Trash Types

Since Philly311 does not record the quantity or type of trash found in an illegal dumping service request, I downloaded a sample of 500 illegal dumping service requests with photos and manually coded them by trash type.

The chart below shows the percent of the 500 illegal dumping photos that contained the 13 types of trash used for the manual classification.


Residential trash, more accurately bagged trash, was visible in 39% of the 2018 photos. Tires, construction debris, Mattresses, Furniture and Big Bellies rounded out the top 6 trash types.

Hot Spot Analysis of Illegal Dumping Service Requests

The Philly311 database includes the latitude and longitude as well as address and request type of each service request, making it relatively simple to map Philly311 service requests by type, date and location.

There were 22,869 illegal dumping service requests in 2018. The hot spot analysis map on the next page identifies the City illegal dumping hot spots based on the clustering of requests.

The hot spot analysis subdivides the City into 8,606 equal size grid cells, 18.9 acres each. 13.6% of these grid cells (1,170 out of 8,606) were rated as hot spot areas.

This illegal dumping hot spot analysis demonstrates that Philadelphia’s street trash problem varies by area. We need to tailor our street trash solutions to the problem areas rather than have a uniform solution across the City.



  • Philadelphia has a trash collection frequency problem in some neighborhoods that leads to residential trash dumping

Philadelphia’s weekly residential trash collection is not adequate in many of our densely populated neighborhoods. High density housing units do not have adequate trash storage for many families who do not have adequate outside space to properly and safely store trash until the next collection day.

  • Philadelphia does not have adequate street trash receptacles (Big Belly’s, Wire Baskets) because of residential trash dumping concerns.

City officials, businesses and others have recognized that trash receptacles can be a magnet for residential trash dumping and often eliminate the receptacles to prevent this dumping. The root cause of the receptacle dumping is inadequate trash collection services.

  1. Philadelphia needs additional Sanitation Convenience Center Services

Philadelphia’s 6 Sanitation Convenience Centers provide an excellent service, unfortunately they are not necessarily convenient for those residents who most need these services. Key issues include:

o Many residents do not know about the 6 Convenience Centers
o Many residents are not able to drive to the Convenience Centers
o Large, bulky items like TVs, tires, old furniture, mattresses require a pick-up truck

Only 1 of the 6 Convenience Centers is located within an Illegal Dumping Service Request Hot Spot area.

Philadelphia should assess the optimal number and locations of Sanitary Convenience Centers to minimize illegal dumping. In the past several years, the Streets Department has experimented with Saturday yard waste and Christmas collections by placing trucks at major intersections to simplify residents leaf or Christmas tree drop off.

These efforts should be reviewed and careful optimizations studies should be conducted to optimize the use of trash – recyclables drop-off sites to minimize illegal dumping.

  • Trash Control is spread across multiple City Agencies with no single responsible agency or manager

Streets, L&I, Parks & Recreation, CLIP, Philly311 and other agencies all have a role in Philadelphia street trash issue. The Mayor’s Zero Waste and Litter Cabinet is a major step in improving the coordination and cooperation among agencies which will lead to improvements.

Each agency has their own data management systems to support their operational needs. It will be critical for the Cabinet to facilitate development of a City-wide trash monitoring system that will provide integrated information on the street trash problem.

  • Enhanced Philly311 Would Improve City’s Street Trash Management Capabilities

Modest enhancements to the Philly311 system would make it even more effective as a Street Trash Management Reporting System.

a. Philly311 should develop an “umbrella code” to identify, track and report on all trash related field field service rquests.

b. Philly311 should obtain information on actual field trash service request actions, including either issuance of violation notice(s) or collection and removal of trash, including type and quantify of trash collected.

c. Philly311 should obtain information on frequent, chronic trash dumping spots so that corrective action plans can be developed for each site and dumping activity can be monitored at these trash hot spot locations.

d. The City should develop a consolidated Street Trash Monitoring Report to track trends, quantities and types of illegal dumping clean-ups on a monthly basis.

A pdf of this report is available here.

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