How to organize a block cleaning in Philadelphia


If there is a lot of trash in your neighborhood, you are not alone. Philly has a serious waste problem – so much so that the city spends around $ 48 million a year to tackle it. And we have also faced problems with garbage collection since the start of the pandemic.

But there is something you can do in your own neighborhood to spruce it up a bit: organize or participate in a neighborhood cleanup. Yes we know you didn’t put the trash in there and you shouldn’t have to clean them, but sometimes you have to take matters into your own hands.

Planning for a successful cleanup takes a lot of organization, thought, and hard work, but these efforts can give you a cleaner place to live and bring a little more community to your neighborhood.

Here’s everything you need to know to be successful, including how to get free supplies and tips from community organizers on how to get your neighbors involved.

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Block captains have access to help from the Philadelphia More Beautiful Committee (PMBC), which is part of the Streets Department. PMBC can help lock down Captains with supplies, round up volunteers, and pick up any trash you pick up.

PMBC runs pre-scheduled cleanings for every neighborhood in the city on Saturdays throughout the spring and summer. Block captains can attend or plan their own by contacting their own police district’s own block manager – essentially a program representative – about three weeks in advance.

Clean Block agents can provide you with supplies such as work gloves, garbage bags, rakes, brooms, and flyers announcing the cleanup. Supplies are usually delivered and generally do not need to be returned.

If you’re cleaning on a weekday, it’s a good idea to schedule it as close to your regular trash day as possible, as PMBC doesn’t promise a special pickup, says program administrator Dawn Woods.

Plus, blocks that have been running for at least two years can enter PMBC’s Clean Block competition, where your block can win up to $ 1,000 in prizes for future beautification projects. And even if your block doesn’t win, you can still get $ 150 just by participating.

The city’s Community Life Improvement Program (CLIP) community partnership program can loan you cleaning supplies if your neighborhood does not have a captain. The city will also collect the garbage that you pick up. And it’s open to almost everyone.

“You can be a person, it can be an organization, it can be a professional association,” says deputy managing director Tom Conway, who oversees CLIP. “Anyone who wants to clean up, we’ll help you. “

To get help from CLIP, complete an online application – at least three or four days before the scheduled cleanup, says Conway. You will need to know how many volunteers you have and what equipment you need. You will need to collect cleaning supplies from the CLIP warehouse at 4000 N. American Street.

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You can get bags as well as rakes, shovels, brooms, trash pickers, and curbs – all of which are on loan, so you’ll need to drop them off at the warehouse when you’re done. And you should only need one piece of gear per volunteer, so try not to “order like an octopus,” as Conway puts it.

Getting help starts with building community and relationships with your neighbors, and making them feel that a better, cleaner neighborhood is possible – especially in communities that may “feel like they’ve been forgotten” says Terrill Haigler, better known as @_yafavtrashman on Instagram. Sometimes all it takes is regular communication.

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“There is a complete disconnect in the function of living next to someone and just talking. Something clicked in us where we made it normal, and we have to denormalize that, ”says Haigler. “You can set expectations in any community just by showing them how important they are. “

Here are some other tips for mobilizing your neighbors:

  • Spread the word. Haigler says he advertises a cleanup for at least three weeks and gets dozens of volunteers. He also suggests posting flyers of your event online and tagging big brands and organizations to help spread the word.

  • Publish your IRL flyers – especially by giving them directly to your neighbors, says John Landers, a longtime Clean Block agent with PMBC in the First and Third Districts. Kelly Offner, executive director of Keep Philadelphia, adds that posting your flyers in high-traffic public places like grocery stores, recreation centers and local parks can also help.

  • Encourage your cleaning by giving away t-shirts, prizes for picking up the most trash, or simple foods like donuts or ice cream to help sweeten the deal. Haigler is even launching the Glitter app which will pay people to keep their blocks clean by doing “block tenders” to them that clean up reported trash, he says.

  • Do something fun, like a block party, to revive your community, says Landers. These events can break the ice and get you and your neighbors talking together about how to solve your block’s garbage problem.

Give yourself plenty of time to organize yourself. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Scout the area in advance. If you’re clearing a wasteland full of tons of old car tires or large items, you may need to call 311 to report it and have it transported, Offner says. Haigler adds that it can help you decide what help you need so as not to overly complicate volunteer efforts.

  • Consider separating waste and recycling, if zero waste is your goal.

  • Collaborate. “It’s not about anybody as an individual – it’s about all of us,” Haigler says. Haigler prefers to partner with other groups, like Volunteering Untapped PHL and Block By Block, to pool resources and maximize participation.

  • You don’t have to do it all the first time, says Offner. “Your first one might be, ‘OK, let’s see if we can get someone here. “”

  • Think about what other supplies you will need. There are some things you may need to provide yourself. Esposito says you might want to have a sharps container (or even a used milk jug or laundry detergent bottle) for used needles. Supplies like water and snacks for the volunteers are also good, especially in the warmer months.

More city tips here.

If you have arranged for a garbage collection, Esposito suggests obtaining a written agreement. The last thing you want is garbage to sit there for days on end due to a lack of communication between the city and the organizers.

But there are several ways to deal with this if this happens:

  • Bring the trash to one of the city’s sanitation centers and dispose of it yourself (call first; centers do not accept an unlimited amount of waste).

  • Put away the garbage until your ordinary trash day, recommends Logan Welde, Clean Air Council staff attorney and Ludlow-based block captain. You might even be able to contact your city councilor for help removing the trash, Welde adds.

  • Local businesses may also have dumpsters with extra room, and be ready to help.

  • Each volunteer may be able to take a bag and throw it away with their usual bins.

Whatever you do, it’s important not to leave the trash lying around. “People see a pile of garbage and they throw their garbage on it,” Welde explains. “It’s not good for the OR.”

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  • Dawn wood, director of the Philadelphia More Beautiful Committee.

  • Terrill Haigler, Philadelphia sanitation worker and organizer known as @_yafavtrashman on Instagram.

  • John Lander, PMBC Clean Block Officer for the first and third districts.

  • Tom conway, Deputy Director General and Head of CLIP.

  • Kelly offner, executive director of Keep Philadelphia Beautiful.

  • Logan welde, lawyer at the Clean Air Council.

  • Nic Esposito, director of engagement for Circular Philadelphia.


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