City Howl Help Desk: Dumping next to Philadelphia Big Belly trash cans a big problem

The city's new Big Belly cans seem to have an attraction for household trash.
The city's new Big Belly cans seem to have an attraction for household trash. (ELIZABETH MAGNER)
Posted: September 21, 2011

IT DOESN'T matter where you live. Port Richmond, Washington Square West or Forgotten Bottom near Gray's Ferry, you can't escape the barrage of household trash piling up next to your public trash cans.

Some of the people who put the trash there might be thinking: The garbagemen are coming to pick up the trash anyway, right? At least it's not in the gutter.

But that doesn't mean it's OK. Trash attracts rats and other pests. Indeed, it's illegal to dump household trash next to neighborhood trash cans (or anywhere other than your own curb on the designated trash day or at a city-owned facility). You could get slapped with a $300 violation or be arrested by the police Neighborhood Services Unit.

Sean Mellody, who lives in Queen Village, is bothered by the trash. In his neighborhood, he used to see people dumping bags next to a wire trash can every day. "I think it got so bad, they took the can away," he said.

He's also seen the problem around the Big Belly cans on South Street. He has some theories about why this happens. The Big Bellies could be full, Mellody said, or their trash bags too large to fit. "Or the handle is so gross, no one will touch it," he said.

Elizabeth Magner has noticed the practice growing around the Big Bellies in her neighborhood of Washington Square West. "This is disgusting and rude to everyone who lives in the area," she wrote to us. "Is there a way it can be stopped?"

TRASHED: Good question. We called Carlton Williams, deputy commissioner at the Streets Department, to ask if the city had any plans to combat this nasty trend.

The city is aware of the problem, Williams said. Anywhere there's a routine collection, people think it's OK to dump trash. Since the Streets Department always picks it up, it becomes "common practice," he said.

Williams mentioned the corner of 57th and Larchwood in West Philly, where 30-40 trash bags pile up outside a Big Belly every week "because they know we're coming." Streets sends enforcement officers to go through bags all over the city to find clues as to who dumped them. But the department plans to experiment with an educational initiative next spring, Williams said.

He wants to wrap the Big Bellies with messages about littering and dumping. It started with 50 Big Bellies on South Street, transformed into vibrant "Litter Critters" with the help of the Mural Arts program. With open mouths of teeth over the handles, the designs are meant to act as an incentive for throwing away trash correctly.

Yet, as Mellody said, dumping is still prevalent around the South Street Big Bellies. While the critters are fun to look at, Help Desk thinks a straightforward message like "No Dumping!" would do more good.

Plus, it's expensive to wrap a Big Belly. Williams said it costs about $500 for design and installation. This year, Streets will fund the project with its annual Department of Environmental Protection grant of about $1 million.

Williams hopes to wrap 100 Big Bellies a year starting next spring. With 900 of these trash cans on the street, it'll take some time to wrap them all.

BIG BELLIES WANTED: Some people think Big Bellies attract dumping, but Lorie DiBattista believes that Port Richmond needs them. The only trash cans in the area are in Campbell Square Park, she said, and they are always overflowing.

It's common practice in the neighborhood to stuff bags of trash into the sewers, DiBattista said. She once asked a child not to throw his trash into the sewers because it was littering. His response? That's not littering, he told her, that's where you're supposed to throw your trash!

Unfortunately, Williams told us there are no plans to buy new Big Bellies right now. The city will consider buying more based on a "needs assessment," and if it has enough resources. (The city is still paying for the Big Bellies it bought two years ago.)

HELP OUT HELP DESK: Help Desk has heard that the city's new gates at 25th and Locust have been malfunctioning. The gates, which protect pedestrians and bikers from CSX trains, are at the Schuylkill River Trail. If you've experienced the gates acting up, give us a call at 215-854-5855, email us at or hit us up on Twitter: @phillyhowl. (Also check out the DN's Marquis of Debris at philly.com/MarquisFB.)


Juliana Reyes reports for It's Our Money, a joint project of the Daily News and WHYY funded by the William Penn Foundation.

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