A total of 1,240,360 pounds of trash were picked up during 2011’s Philly Spring Cleanup. A total of 2,574 volunteers, 149,860 pounds of waste recycled. In only it’s fourth year the program put up impressive numbers. Several dozen local residents and students joined together with Mantua Community Improvement Committee with hopes of making the fifth cleanup on April 14 just as impressive.
How much is 1,240,360 pounds? Try three times the weight of three blue whales, the largest animal to have ever existed. To pick up this much trash in only one afternoon is truly an impressive feat, and a sign residents in Philadelphia are taking notice of the waste the city is infamous for.
Mantua is one community that has seen benefit from the increased awareness of litter. The neighborhood has benefited by MCIC, an organization that has managed to turn keeping the neighborhood clean into a profitable business.
“Most of our funding, 80 percent of it, comes from us working for it,” said Rick Young, executive director of MCIC.
MCIC has a contract with Drexel University to clean in front of it for-profit real estate branch’s property and can be seen actively cleaning on the campus. The organization also has a contract with the city to maintain vacant lots.
“There’s some 900 lots in the community, so we do a lot of work,” said Young.
Drexel played a big role in April 14 cleanup events. A full load of Drexel students was delivered to MCIC’s headquarters in an official Drexel bus. Young said he expected perhaps 50 volunteers for the day, but there may have been 50 Drexel students alone.
The students were broken into small groups with MCIC employees and local residents and given equipment from the extensive collection of tools MCIC has acquired. Then they were sent to 40th Street to work their way back through the neighborhood.
“We live in the community,” said Josh Dienstman, a Drexel student. “If we’re cleaning up, it directly helps us as well as everyone else.”
Sam Samuels, MCIC outreach coordinator, has noticed the impact of Drexel students in the area.
“They see the importance of coming out, helping, and getting involved in the community,” said the 41-year Mantua resident.
After the cleanup, Philadelphia sent out its trash trucks to designated areas to pick up the tons of waste volunteers picked up.
“That way the cats and stuff don’t break into the bags and the trash [would] be all over and you’d be right back where you started,” Samuels said.
Rick Young wanted to use MCIC to make the neighborhood more welcoming for students and their parents from a safety perception standpoint as well as cleanliness.
“The people that were so intimidating to most students or parents that came through here were the people that hung on the corners,” Young said.
So he hired some of those people, some of whom participated in the clean up.
“The people that used to keep the neighborhood unsafe and unclean are now the people that keep it clean and safe,” said Young of the 15 to 25 employees on staff, depending on the season.
Local residents have seen noticeable improvements in the 13 years since MCIC formed and since the city has started its anti-litter campaign.
“You don’t see as much trash and debris and stuff like that in the streets that you once did,” said Nakesha Steed, who is the receptionist at MCIC. “Especially when I was coming up it was pretty trashy, people didn’t care about littering or recycling.”
Attitudes are changing. In 2005, only 5 percent of waste was recycled, according to the Mayor’s Report on City Services. Six years later, Recycle Now Philadelphia reported this number has climbed to 18 percent.
Mantua has seen some of the most dramatic increases of the entire city. Mantua is wholly in one recycling zone, which stretches from the river to 42nd Street and Girard Avenue to Market Street. In 2006, according to the Department of Streets, this area recycled 2.9 percent. By 2011 this number was up to 14.6 percent.
“I feel like its such a beautiful city it just needs to be cleaned up a little more,” said Blair Sarkisian, a Drexel student. “As a Drexel student it can’t hurt to help.”
As Drexel and Mantua increasingly come together as community, MCIC will welcome the hands on the ground cleaning up.
“It really makes me proud,” Steed said. “Actually to see someone actually wanting to come out and help the community be clean.”