A guest post by Blanche Helbling, KPB Photographer Extraordinaire! 

If you followed Keep Philadelphia Beautiful’s social media pages this summer, we hope you enjoyed our weekly photo post highlighting the efforts of local #ZeroWaste champions (psst…you can see the photos here, in our Facebook album). As the photographer, I had a wonderful time meeting each and every one of the lovely models, and I was enthused by their infectious commitment to integrating eco-conscious practices into their daily lives.

The goal of the photo series was to initiate a conversation about how we, as individuals, can do our part to reduce the amount of waste that is collectively generated. Keep Philadelphia Beautiful sits on Mayor Kenney’s Zero Waste and Litter Cabinet, and we’re proud to be part of the team working to  reach his goal of eliminating 90% of the city’s waste from landfills by the year 2035. No doubt it’s an ambitious goal; but as Daniel Burnham said, make no little plans. (Pssst again – read more at CleanPHL.org.) 

Full disclosure: I’m not from Philadelphia. Just over a year ago, I moved here from the Pittsburgh suburb where I grew up and spent most of my life. I like it here; there’s a kind of confident energy in Philadelphia that is unique to anywhere else. Philadelphians know who they are and what they’re about, and have a refreshingly low tolerance for nonsense. It’s awesome.

Over the course of shooting the #ZeroStartsWithOne photo series this summer, I found that Philadelphians were, unsurprisingly, starkly opinionated on the matter of zero waste. People were either absolutely, entirely behind the movement, or they were totally, unapologetically sure that Mayor Kenney and the Zero Waste and Litter Cabinet were perhaps being a bit too ambitious.

It doesn’t take much to realize that Philadelphia has a waste problem. Much of it, regrettably, ends up polka dotting our parks and sidewalks as litter. Even more of it ends up in landfills or incinerators– both of which are, obviously, not the greatest for our environment.

Landfills, incinerators, and litter are not our only options though, and I hope that the Zero Waste photo series conveyed the admiration and applause I have for those Philadelphians who are courageous enough to believe that they can help be the change that the city and the environment at large needs. As a native of the Pittsburgh area, I have seen the results of a city that comes together to rise above a decidedly un environmental past. What was once known as the “Smoky City” has since transformed itself into one of technology, culture, and environmental stewardship. And it’s all credit to the city’s leadership and, moreover, to the city’s people.

I won’t pretend this all happened overnight. Pittsburgh earned its reputation for being “smoky” after decades of steel mill-created pollution, and it has been working to shed that image for a long time as well. Likewise, Philadelphia won’t be waste-free tomorrow or the next day or even next year. It will take a while, so it’s a good thing that it’s already started. This city is full of amazing people who make it their personal mission to reduce their own garbage in a myriad of ways. Through the photo campaign, we were able to highlight their efforts and engage in meaningful dialogue about why they do what they do and what they hope to do next. All posts combined, we generated over 26,000 interactions on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Hopefully, this is just the beginning of an ongoing conversation.

If I’ve learned anything about Philadelphia, it is that its people are strong, and when they set their minds to something, they usually achieve it.

Why not have that thing be Zero Waste?