Site Description-JM

Preliminary Paper Title:

They Call It Filthadelphia: How “Cash for Trash” Recycling Programs Affect the Lower Class

Author Biography:

            My name is Juli, and I am an undergraduate senior history major at New Jersey Institute of Technology. I live in New Jersey, affectionately known as “Dirty Jersey” and grew up in the southern half of the state, close to Philadelphia and Delaware. I was inspired to research recycling programs after reading David Pellow’s book Garbage Wars, which focuses on environmental injustices in Chicago. I chose to focus on Philadelphia, Pennsylvania as my site for this research because it holds a special place in my heart, but it also holds an enormous amount of trash.

Site Description:

            Philadelphia is notorious for being dirty. The nickname “Filthadelphia” was born based on its overwhelming amount of trash and litter throughout the city. In the 1980s, Philadelphia began work to encourage recycling programs and mandate residential recycling. Incentives were developed with the city’s most vulnerable inhabitants in mind: the lower class and the homeless. “Cash for Trash” programs that paid people who collected various recyclable materials voluntarily provided these people with an opportunity for wages, and it provided the city with cheap labor. Reliance on these programs comes with risks, including health risks of handling potentially dangerous materials as well as the risk of losing the opportunity for economic stability after professional programs are adopted to replace them. The incentives developed for mandated recycling programs disproportionately affect the members of the lower class who likely cannot afford the fines for improper material disposal, but also cannot afford to have their trash properly disposed of. The incentives for voluntary recycling programs, like Cash for Trash and other buy-back programs, are too good for the homeless or lower class to reject, forcing them into facing the aforementioned health and economic risks.

Historical Questions:

  1. How are Cash for Trash programs affected/threatened by the development of professional recycling programs?
  2. Is Philadelphia capable of implementing effective incentives for recycling that don’t disproportionately impact the lower class?
  3. What health and safety risks do “scrap haulers” face when handling potentially dangerous recyclable materials that even professional collectors won’t touch?

Project Significance:

The implementation of cash incentives aa a means to the city’s end goal of ‘going green’ is worrisome for more than just the collectors. Incentives such as these suggest that the city of Philadelphia is using the impoverished as cheap labor. It appears as though the economic vulnerability of the lower class allows for the city officials to rely on their cheap labor with disregard to the health risks. This method of objectifying the poor is seen throughout time in countless cities like Philadelphia, and the continuation of such practices only reinforces the stereotypes posed against the lower class while also reinforcing the lack of upward mobility their economic instability creates.

Keyword Tags:

class, business, toxics, pollution, recycling