Fighting blight a block at a time

Rasa Kaye
October 12, 2018 - 4:06 pm

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Two years ago, University of Pennsylvania campus Minister Dave Brindley was one guy with a grabber picking up wind-blown and carelessly tossed trash from his West Philly street.

Today his “Litter? Not In Philly!” campaign has about 1,300 enrolled citizen trash picker-uppers patrolling its blocks for litter and disposing of it properly.

“I didn't’t know if anybody would sign up, but the citizens of Philadelphia are awesome,” Brindley said.

While Brindley hopes to inspire any and all to corral wayward litter as they find it, his campaign is now an official project of the Pennsylvania Resources Council (PRC) with a volunteer-built, interactive site that allows like-minded litter warriors to become part of a greater plan.

“I approached the tech community and Code For Philly and Think Company worked together and created the first map-enabled adopt-a-block site in the country,” Brindley explained, “where people can commit to picking up litter on their block once a week. That’s all it takes, 15 minutes once a week for a big result.”

Mario Cimino, co-executive director of the Eastern Region of PRC — which launched the “Don’t Be A Litterbug!” campaign in 1952 — said PRC recognized Brindley’s project as an opportunity to combine traditional litter prevention efforts with online technology and crowdsourcing to encourage people to tackle a small part of what can seem like an insurmountable problem of litter in Philadelphia.

“They go on NotInPhilly.org and see all the other blocks that have been adopted, now over 1,000, and really see that they’re a part of something that’s making a difference,” he said. “It can get demoralizing if you feel like you’re by yourself and never making an impact. This way they’re part of a wave of people concerned with litter as an issue, which ties in to property values and beautification and overall quality of life in neighborhoods all over the city.”

Not in Philly holds ambassador training sessions while distributing posters and postcards for sign-ups by snail mail, and has prepared a video presentation to share with church groups, schools, or other organizations that would like to get on board and get the word out about committing a few minutes a week to beautify a block.

“I like meeting people who are sick of the trash,” added Courtney Bieberfeld, who started her work with the project as the steward for her South Philly block, but has stepped up to a board position with Not in Philly. “There are a lot of people who care. The big cleanups are awesome, but we’re trying to tell people that every little bit counts and you can make a big difference as an individual by just making trash pickup part of your routine.”

Pro tip: Bieberfeld makes her rounds the evening before trash day, carrying two bags to separate refuse from recyclables, then puts her haul out with the rest of her household garbage.

On the plus side, she has picked up a $20 bill and smaller denominations on her route. But in general, the stuff that gets dumped on neighborhood streets ranges from annoying to gross to what were they thinking?!

Diapers. Roadkill. Bulging bags of fast food remains.

Not In Philly member Dave Wilks of Fairmount picked up 70 pounds of trash from one lot after the Eagles Super Bowl parade.

“I’ve been trying to come up with a way to track what I pick up on my walks, so I just used a fish scale to weigh it all,” he said.

How to make the chore more fun (or at least lessen the direct contact): Not In Philly urges the use of trash grabbers, easily available at hardware stores and online. Pro tip: The 32-inch length is the most ergonomically correct length for ease of transferring from sidewalk to trash bag.

“It makes a huge difference because you don’t have to bend over,” added Katie Brindley. “We’ve gone out and picked it up with our hands, and all that bending over gets so tiring. And it’s very sanitary to use the grabber — that’s one awesome part. And these grabbers can pick up things that are so tiny with pinpoint accuracy — it is amazing what you can pick up. We store ours outside because of the gross things we pick up with it, but the handle doesn’t need much wiping because your hands don’t have to touch the gross stuff.”

The Brindley children, once the inspiration for their parents to tackle the trash blown into their play area, are now old enough to go on litter patrol with them.

“I just hated the hopelessness that those trash-covered streets conveyed to all the kids in the neighborhood,” Dave Brindley remembered. “But now this one weekly effort together is a great way for them to contribute and learn to be a citizen, and care for their neighborhood and people and the environment.”