A recent TIME magazine article pointed out what has been obvious in Philadelphia — we, like nearly every major city in America, have a trash problem. Similar sanitation challenges experienced by neighboring municipalities, such as Cherry Hill, Collingswood and others, were recently highlighted in The Philadelphia Inquirer and 6abc. The Streets Department has gone on record explaining the pitfalls of a 30 percent increase in tonnage curbside, a workforce afflicted and impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, efforts to resolve staffing shortages and more. While some consider these excuses, and we understand their perspective, we know that countless Americans face delays in collections, suspension of services and that transitioning to a normal sense of life is challenging because many struggles brought about by the pandemic still remain prevalent.
We understand the frustration of not knowing which day your materials will be collected and how it makes one feel slighted, forgotten, and vulnerable. We also get that not knowing leaves one to feel as if there’s just one more thing out of their control. It isn’t lost on us that our messages to “set trash out and expect delays” is vague and doesn’t answer the seemingly simple question of “When are you coming to get this trash?”
Since the start of the pandemic, much has been done to address the challenges. We’ve added 120 temporary laborer positions to help capture the additional tonnage brought on by more people working and learning from home. We are further proud to say many of these laborers have transitioned over to full-time employees, and we are processing and training new hires weekly to fill existing vacancies. During our greatest incidents of delays, we’ve brought in staff from other agencies and interdepartmentally to assist with collections. We are forever grateful for the willingness of city employees to help and the collaboration of Department and Union leadership across agencies for the support of the all-hands-on-deck effort.
Like many industries today, the Streets Department is also challenged with retaining staff while filling vacant positions as quickly as they open. Municipalities across the country have been forced to cancel certain sanitation services such as bulk collections and have suspended recycling programs and street sweeping altogether. In Philadelphia, we have worked hard to keep these services available to residents despite our challenges, and unfortunately this has contributed to delays.
This doesn’t mean we’ve forgotten about residents or the impacts of trash sitting at the curb beyond the normal collection day. We too are concerned about our employees working six to seven days straight without a break. We too worry about the conditions of our roadways when we can’t remediate illegal dumping spots as quickly as we’d hope and what our neighborhoods look like when there are increased incidents of litter strewn along curb lines.
Through all of this, we are here to reassure you that you are not forgotten and we take our jobs serving the public very seriously. Our mission to provide clean, green, and safe streets has not changed. As we work through the challenges, we will:
As always, we thank residents for being kind to our crews and for their patience as we work through the delays and get us back to a normal collection schedule.