Why are we such pigs? Cleanups, education are failures - we ARE Filthy-delphia

Posted: April 18, 2011

ABOUT 100 VOLUNTEERS, joined by Mayor Nutter, got a little sweaty fighting grime as they raked, swept and painted at the Cecil B. Moore Recreation Center, in North Philadelphia, to make it sparkle during the 2011 Philly Spring Cleanup on April 2.

Four days later, the center again had become a dumping ground, with more than 10 bags of trash, plastic bottles and a garbage-filled cardboard box lining the black, wrought-iron fence outside the center.

A week later, the mound of trash bags had doubled, with the same cardboard box groaning under the expanding, filthy mass.

"This happens all the time," Stefan Brooks, a North Philadelphia resident, said of the rampant illegal dumping that he sees. "I just hope no one gets hurt, because shattered glass is on the ground and sharp sticks are poking out of the bags."

It's hardly an appreciation of the 12,574 volunteers who scrubbed down the city during the Spring Cleanup at 250 sites around town.

In fact, of the six sites that Nutter visited during the cleanup, the Daily News had found that four already were trashed with litter - discarded food wrappers, plastic bottles, plastic bags, tied up shopping bags of household trash, and even tires. The detritus exhibits the difficulty of turning one well-intentioned day of cleanup into a sustained battle against litter in a city dubbed Filth-adelphia.

Last year, the city Streets Department launched its poetic Unlitter Us public-service campaign to inspire residents to keep up the good work and help change the attitudes of those who litter.

Apparently, the service announcements fell on deaf ears.

"We need to have clearly defined, sustainable cleanup initiatives that engage community members to remove blighted conditions," City Councilman Darrell Clarke said. "One day of cleanup in the spring and public-service announcements are not enough."

The city Streets Department admits that its battle against litter is endless and difficult.

"Even though we made progress in the Unlitter Us campaign, it was not enough," Sanitation Deputy Commissioner Carlton Williams said. "The ability of catching people litter is difficult because no one throws trash on the ground in front of a police officer."

But rather than only a lack of enforcement, some feel that a segment of city youth and their parents deserve most of the blame.

"I see kids all the time leaving the corner store and dropping their candy wrapper on the ground," said John Williams, a member of the Brotherhood of Huntingdon Street and a 35-year North Philadelphia resident. "Adults should also be held accountable because they should have their children picking up trash off the streets as a chore."

"We make our own mess and we need to find a way to make it better," Williams added.

Illegally dumped construction waste is also a big contributor to the littering problem, and it usually involves people dumping junk outside their own community.

The Mayor's Office of Neighborhood Services is working to secure a federal grant to buy 25 more digital cameras to catch people illegally dumping trash throughout Philadelphia; 10 are already in use around the city.

"Last year, 60 arrests were made for illegal dumping," Williams said. "The punishment varies from a $300 fine to a $5000 fine and vehicle confiscation."

But the possibility of a fine and the threat of an impounded car have done little to stop the problem.

"Instead of a fine, the penalty for littering should be community service," said state Rep. Jewell Williams, of North Philadelphia. "The offenders might think twice before littering again if their community service entails sweeping and cleaning trash all day."

The two cleanup sites that Nutter visited in Northeast Philadelphia were in good condition last week. The four others, which were in North and West Philly, were in varying states of landfill. One vacant lot on Colorado Street near Cumberland looked like it hadn't seen a broom in years.

At the Cecil B. Moore Rec center, the piles of trash that had been growing were removed Friday morning, after the Daily News started making calls, but new mounds of junk quickly replaced them later that day.

Staff writer Valerie Russ contributed to this report.

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