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Catching dodgy dumpers

June 18, 2019 - 9:15 pm
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By Rasa Kaye

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — We're getting so tired of dumped tires.

They're one of the most commonly mis-discarded items in the city - an eyesore as well as an arson risk and potential health problem

The Philadelphia Streets Department estimates it collects more than 70 tons of tires illegally dumped on city streets every year, and is trying to hold tire dealers more accountable for the tires they buy, sell or dispose of. 

It's part of a multi-pronged battle against large-scale litter that the city has ramped up this year.

The good news: there's been progress.

Fifty new hidden surveillance cameras, fines in the thousands and detectives sleuthing with the police department's environmental crimes unit have increased the number of illegal dumping cases the city has prosecuted in 2019. 

The bad news: individuals and business are still dodging disposal fees and trashing vacant lots or isolated side streets. The Litter Index is still very red.

The Southwest Philly neighborhoods around the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge see their share of trashy dumper behavior, but the refuge itself is a catch-all for the careless discards from miles away.

"Some of the things that end up in the waterways are just absurd," said Madelyn Schwer, the Americorps VISTA for the Heinz Refuge. "John Heinz (Refuge) is located, unfortunately, at the bottom of the watershed. So while the visitors aren't necessarily littering, all that litter from upstream is going to eventually end up in our marsh and Darby Creek."

Schwer says between 300 and 400 volunteers fill two dumpsters every Earth Day with garbage polluting the Heinz ecosystem, but it's replaced by more debris with every current. 

"We have to continue to do this all year, that's the struggle," Schwer explained, "trying to get volunteers back to clean John Heinz but more importantly, preventing that litter in the first place, reaching the people who are littering, and illegally dumping, whether it's educating them or catching them to stop it at the source."

To that end, Heinz staffers enthusiastically support city efforts to trap trashers but also present programs to engage the community while bringing awareness to the environmental balance that makes for a healthy Heinz.

This weekend alone there are guided bird and butterfly walks, and a huge Summer Solstice Celebration for the family late Saturday afternoon through the evening. 

"It's kind of like a first step," Schwer said. "If people can have an appreciation for wildlife and nature, maybe they'll care more about it, and not litter anywhere."

While you're still asked to call 311 to report offending piles of trash in your neighborhood, you don't have to take it upon yourself to shame a slob in action. Illegal dumping is treated as a police emergency in Philadelphia! 

The city wants you to call 911 if you see illegal dumping happening. Get a description and the license plate number of the vehicle involved, if you can do it safely.

And if you have some rubber that's no longer in shape to hit the road, you might even want to re-purpose it with some of these ideas. (That ottoman! #CraftGoals)