Category Archives: Litter GIS

Philadelphia Updates, Significantly Improves Street Litter Index

Philadelphia has taken a major step forward with the recent release of the interactive 2017 Litter Index map (link) and supporting data (link).

In my January, 2017 post, I compared Philadelphia’s earlier litter index to the then recently released LA Street Litter Index. LA had made significant improvements in their index. I am thrilled to report that one year later, Philadelphia has a state-of-the-art litter index that  provides litter status data for every street segment in the City.

The new index is based on city block surveys where surveyors assessed the litter  situation on a 4 point scale:

  1. Little to no litter
  2. Litter, in the amount that can be picked up by one person
  3. Litter, in the amount that would need a team to clean up
  4. Litter, requires a large clean effort and/or heavy machinery to remove

Surveyor data included date(s) of survey, litter count for the block as well as a link to field photograph(s).

Users can download the City’s detailed litter survey data at 3 levels of detail:

  • Detailed Survey Points – detailed data for each survey point
  • Street Segments
  • Ward Divisions, aka voting precints

The data is available in CSV files, shapefiles and GeoJSOn files. The best place to start is to look at the Metadata for the point, line and polygon data.

I have started analyzing the 2017 Litter Index Data for Council District 8. These 2 maps show the point survey data and the block – street segment data for Council District 8.



Congratulations to the City’s Zero Waste and Litter Cabinet for implementing this comprehensive litter measurement system. This data will help community groups, individuals, litter activists and City Departments to focus attention on both city-wide and neighborhood priorities and measure progress as we work together to solve the City’s chronic street trash problem.

LA Cleanliness Index More Effective Than Philadelphia’s Litter Index

(Philadelphia’s Zero Waste & Litter Cabinet released a significantly enhanced 2017 Litter Index in February, 2018. Please see that post to see how the City has improved the Litter Index to a level comparable to LA’s index (LINK)


Philadelphia has been using a litter index to assess street trash conditions since 2007 (link). Here is the most recent litter index, downloaded from OpenDataPhilly.  The actual dates for the litter survey data is not provided.


Philadelphia’s Litter Index provides a 1-4 composite score for 111 trash collection day area in the City. The City’s meta data file states:

The Litter Index is used to compare the relative cleanliness of different areas of the city of Philadelphia. he relative cleanliness of different areas of the city of Philadelphia.

Originally created in 2007, the Litter Index is used to compare the relative cleanliness of different areas of the city. The Litter Index is scored on a 1-4 scale with 1 being minimal litter and 4 being extremely littered.

The City’s Litter Index has a number of shortcomings which limit its usefulness as a City trash hot spot identification and management tool.

  • Data collection is based on relatively large areas, with an average of 2.2 square miles. Seriously trash street segments are masked when the data is averaged over such a large area.
  • Street Litter Index Values for specific areas vary widely from survey to survey, raising concerns about the reliability of the underlying methodology (link).
  • There is no relationship between 311 Illegal Dumping Service Requests and Street Litter Index.


Los Angeles has developed a Street Cleanliness Index (link) which provides detailed street segment by segment data not available in Philadelphia’s index.

Here is a short video describing how LA used a dashcam, smartphone camera and ArcGIS to score each street segment in LA.

LA  uses assigns a  1 to 3 cleanliness score for Loose Litter, Illegal Dumping, Weeds and Bulky Items as well as a composite score.  Here is an example of the LA Cleanliness Score Map , showing segments with Clean, Somewhat Clean and Not Clean scores.


With the LA method, the Not Clean (red) segments standout.  Philadelphia needs to adopt a detailed street litter index score system like LA so that we can pinpoint the badly trash street segments and begin getting our trash problems under control.

Interactive Map of District 8 Trash

Here’s a link to an interactive map of District 8 trash that shows 4 types of trash:

  1. Illegal dumping of construction debris
  2. Residential trash dumping
  3. Dumpster issues
  4. Litter accumulation areas

Click (link) or image to visit ArcGIS Online map of District 8 trash tour.


The map is color coded to distinguish between construction debris dumping and residential trash dumping as separate issues from vehicular & pedestrian littering.

The photos are geo-tagged and all were taken between Feb 1 and 14, 2015.

PHL: Philadelphia Hates Litter

Want to see how data and maps can help tackle Philadelphia’s litter problem? This pdf file shows a slide show that I recently had the opportunity to present on the potential use of GIS to help us measure and manage our litter problem.


Philadelphia Litter Code Violation Notices by Council District

There were 33,213 litter code violation notices issued in 2013. Here’s a map that shows the number of litter code violations by the 10 City Council Districts.


How to Map Phila Neighborhood Litter Code Violation Notices

I previously wrote about the Germantown 2013 litter code violation map. In this post, I want to provide a short how-to  for this E Mt Airy 2013 Litter Code Violation Map so that others can produce similar maps for their neighborhoods.


GIS Requirements

I started using ESRI’s ArcMap after working with ESRI’s free ArcGIS Desktop Explorer for about a year. I love both products, with ArcMap providing the critical geoprocessing tools I needed to drill down into Philadelphia’s litter problem.

You’ll need a full GIS tool to be able to analyze Philadelphia litter data the way I have.

Litter Data Data Requirements

You need 3 data shapefiles to reproduce the E Mt Airy Litter code Violation map for your neighborhood.  Here are the files with links tht you need:

  1. City Code Violation Notice Data Shapefile
  2. City Neighborhood Boundaries Shapefile
  3. City Street Centerlines Shapefile

Working with Code Violation Notice (CVN) Shapefile

The City’s CVN shapefile is pretty good size for my desktop PC at 450 thousand records. Once you load the CVN shapefile, I suggest that you open the CVN attribute table and select just 2013 CVNs for these litter codes:

  • 10702    –  Littering in Public
  • 10703    –   Litter in Receptacle
  • 10705    –   Litter swpt to gutter
  • 107032 –  Misuse of City Lit Bask
  • 107041 – Sidewalk not litter free
  • 107042 – Recpl not supplied
  • 107141 – Premises not litter free
  • 107142 – Recp not litter free

Once you have selected just the litter CVN for 2013, you save this data set as a new shapefile and use it as a layer for further analysis. Use the data > export option , give the export an understandable name and you now have just City wide 2013 litter CVNs.

Selecting 2013 Litter CVNs in your Neighborhood

You now want to select just those 2013 CVNs in your neighborhood. To do this, activate the neighborhoods layer you downloaded from Open Data Philly  and select your neighborhood. One way you can do this is to click the Selection menu, choose Interactive Selection and  go to desired neighborhood polygon and right click to select the desired polygon.

You now want to make a boundary layer for your desired neighborhood.  Please note that you could add additional neighborhoods if you wanted. Once you have your neighborhood(s) selected, right click your City neighborhoods layer and select Data to export your neighborhood boundary as a separate layer. Be sure to name it with a useful neighborhood id so that you can retrieve it later.

Clip City 2013 Litter CVN Data to your Neighborhood Boundary

You now have a layer with just 2013 litter CVN data for the City and your desired neighborhood layer. To get just the litter CVNs in your neighborhood, you need to clip the City 2013 CVN layer with your neighborhood boundary.

Be sure to save your new clipped data layer with a recognizable name.

Map and Analysis

You now have a layer with just 2013 litter CVNs for your neighborhood. You are ready to produce your neighborhood map. You can use either one of the available basemaps or use the a clipped layer from the City’s centerline layer.


Mapping Germantown Litter Code Violations

This post shows how the Philadelphia’s Code Violation Notice data can be used to identify local litter hot spots.  In this example, I have selected the 2013 sidewalk and premise code violation notices within the Germantown Connections  boundary.

Here is  my ARCMap result:



Each of the 829 red dots represents a sidewalk or premise code violation notice issued in 2013.

I’ve been thinking about how local community development groups and City agencies could use this type of litter GIS data analysis to identify litter hot spots, monitor year-to-year litter changes (hopefully improvements) to effectively and focus attention in problem areas.