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Zero Waste: How Philly plans to be litter-free by 2035

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Return street sweeping, eliminate landfill use, and more

Police Shut Down Occupy Philadelphia Encampment
Philly wants to be a zero waste city by 2035.
Photo by Jeff Fusco/Getty Images

There’s a reason why Philly has earned the unfortunate nickname Filthadelphia: It has a big-time littering problem. Not to mention that each year, Philly produces 1.5 million tons of waste—that’s one ton for every resident.

That’s why the City of Philadelphia has launched a campaign to make Philly litter-free by 2035.

“While everyone knows cleaning up litter is important, we also have to concentrate on reducing waste before it has the chance to become litter,” Mayor Jim Kenney said at Monday morning’s announcement.

The Zero Waste and Litter Action Plan launched today, breaking down how exactly the city plans to fully eliminate the use of landfills and conventional incinerators by 2035. First and foremost, the city will reduce waste generation and increase waste diversion—the process of diverting waste from landfills—by 90 percent by 2035.

The remaining 10 percent will be used as waste to energy.

The whole action plan can be found here at the city’s new website, but here are some of the major steps the city plans to take to wipe out litter.

Find out why Philadelphians litter

Since spring 2017, the city has been conducting behavioral research studies throughout Philly with the help of local institutions to determine why Philadelphians and institutions litter. This data—which includes experiments like whether lidded recycling bins help prevent trash—will be used to help determine “policy, legislation, and initiatives that will lead to a Zero Waste and litter-free city,” according to the report.

Establish the Litter Index

This online survey program will collect data of Philly’s streets, parks, and vacant lots down to every piece of litter on a City Asset property. Using the survey results, the city will be able to assess what areas of Philly require immediate attention—think “heavy dumps” of litter that have created unsafe conditions—and the public to view their neighborhood scores at

The first round of the Litter Index survey is expected to begin in December 2017.

Require recycling at events

Philly plays host to a lot of events like parades and festivals that produce a ton of trash. The Zero Waste Events Program’s goal is to make Philly “The Home of Zero Waste Events.” This would be accomplished by modifying the current permit requirements for public events to include a recycling mandate.

This permit modification is expected to begin in March 2018.

Explore organic material collection, street sweeping

Another study underway is exploring the feasibility of a city-wide organic material collection, which includes yard, leaf, and food waste. Currently, an estimated 400,000 tons of this type of waste is thrown away as trash each year. Eliminating that amount of this unneeded waste from landfills could greatly help the city meet its 2035 goal, the report notes.

The report also says that it’s considering the return of street sweeping as another long-term goal. This cleaning occurs in Center City and some commercial corridors, but not city-wide. The city estimates that expanding street sweeping would cost $6 million.

Keep Philly’s buildings on track

Philly already has an executive order in place that requires city buildings to have recycling programs in place. A similar code for commercial buildings also exists. But, the report notes, many buildings aren’t in compliance with the order—just 22 percent of commercial buildings have completed a recycling plan.

To fix this, the Zero Waste program plans to implement a Building Waste Audit Program, starting with municipal buildings, to ensure that city and commercial buildings are in compliance with the executive order and code.

This city building audit expected to begin in November 2017, followed by the commercial building audits the following year.