Category Archives: General

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.

Street Trash = Illegal Dumping + Litter

Philadelphia has a street trash problem that is being mislabeled as a litter problem. We all understand litter, the soda bottle, snack food wrapper that is tossed on the sidewalk. Unfortunately we tend to use litter for all  “street trash”, both gross illegal dumping and the extraneous snack food wrapper.

I have started using street trash to label all street-sidewalk-vacant lot-park space debris, including tires, TVs, mattresses, bulky items-furniture, residential trash as well as the pedestrian snack food droppings. All is trash, all has wound up in our common space, hence the term street trash.

Here are several Philadelphia 311 illegal dumping service request photos taken from the 311 OpenDataPhilly website (link) on Monday, February 6, 2017.

We will only have clean streets when we address and begin to control our illegal dumping crisis. Much of what we call litter actually start as bags of residential trash that are placed on a sidewalk by someone unwilling to wait until the next trash day.

Let’s start to call all dumpers by their right name, DUMPERS.  An old mattress or soda bottle tossed on the sidewalk comes from the same thoughtless behavior. We need to go after all dumpers, big and small.

Philadelphia’s Zero Waste & Litter Cabinet (link, link) is a great opportunity for Philadelphia to  begin to control out waste & trash future. It is absolutely critical that we recognize the importance of illegal dumping in litter efforts. We need to tackle both illegal dumping and litter to get our streets to the cleanliness level that we want.

Philadelphia Plastic Bag Street Litter Video


Philadelphia Litter Walk

Philadelphia has a litter problem that causes water pollution problems in our local creeks, Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers as well as Delaware bay and Atlantic Ocean. Click this image to see how much litter accumulates in 95 feet of Philadelphia streets.


This litter photo survey was taken in the 6100 block of E Godfrey street near Adams Ave & Cresentville Road on 9/9/14.



I counted 155 pieces of litter in this 95 foot stretch of E Godfrey St. Count them yourself and see how many pieces you find.

Trash Photo Tour of Tacony – Frankford Creek

This map shows the extent of my 4/1/14 photo trash tour of the Tacony – Frankford Creek from E Wyoming Ave to Castor Ave.


View the slide show by clicking on any image.

To view the tour as a pdf,  click this link.

Photosynth 2.0: New Tool to Photo Document Stormwater Trash in Small Streams & Creeks

Microsoft has released a new version of Photosynth that significantly improves photo documentation of creek trash.  I took my digital camera to Rock Creek, a small tributary of the Tookany – Tacony Creek to see how if Photosynth can be used to document creek trash in small creeks. The answer is YES!.

Here are links to several Rock Creek Photosynths that show the power of this tool in documenting creek conditions.

  • Rock Creek just upstream of Washington Lane Bridge (link)
  • Icicles Along Rock Creek (link)
  • Rock Creek Trash Tour Below MH2 (link)
  • Trash Tour below Cheltenham Storm Sewer Outfall (link)
  • Rock Creek Trash Tour Below PWD’s CSO T-01 (link)

Photosynth’s Walk mode lets you “glide” from photo to photo along the creek as if you were flying.  You can stop the auto advance and move forward – reverse at your own pace.You can zoom  and pan to see the creek litter or others of interest.  This tool takes litter photography to a whole new level.

Rock Creek Below PWD’s T-01 Outfall by KellyOday on Photosynth

Example of Rock Creek Trash Captured in 3D with Photosynth