Zero Litter: The next mayor needs to go way beyond 'redd-ups'

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These comments were sent to me by a Pittsburgher, born and raised here, who moved to California in 1975; moved back in 2008; and is on his way back to California.

"I applaud Citizens Against Litter's continued efforts on behalf of the people of Pittsburgh, but I must tell you that part of the reason I'm moving away from Pittsburgh is because I find it to be the filthiest city I have ever seen and I have seen many. For a population that seemingly has such pride in its city, the people of the Pittsburgh area sure don't show it. And it will always baffle me how Pittsburgh ranks so high in the most livable cities lists that come out every year. The people making those lists must be blind. All I can say is keep up the good work."

His words hurt. And I disagree. But this disappointed expatriate was certainly right about Pittsburgh having a litter problem.

There are four culprits:

• Everyday litterbugs;

• Illegal dumpsites;

• Street-front businesses that don't sweep sidewalks and gutters regularly.

• And homeowners, renters and building owners who break the law with overflowing, uncovered and insufficient garbage and waste containers.

The time has come for Pittsburgh to push beyond neighborhood "redd-ups." This is a challenge for our next mayor to start a whole new initiative -- not just tweak a hand-me-down version from Mayors Luke Ravenstahl and Bob O'Connor.

Our next mayor needs to make Zero Litter his priority. Pittsburgh needs an all-out fresh effort to dig out the roots of our litter problems.

Please, though, don't take this citywide at first. Too much. Too fast. It won't work.

Start in one or a few neighborhoods with a focused, affordable one-year program that brings together a committed mayor, his staff, all city departments, city council, the Urban Redevelopment Authority, the Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority, magistrates and concerned others to strictly enforce ordinances, enact new ordinances as needed, issue warnings, write citations and collect fines.

Like Citizens Against Litter, which started 10 years ago in Shadyside and now involves thousands of people in the city and beyond, Zero Litter could start in one or two neighborhoods. Then it could be evaluated, improved and rolled out to more neighborhoods.

A well-managed test of Zero Litter would work, providing there is a no-nonsense strategy that sets goals, studies and applies best methods, holds agencies accountable, encourages neighborhood participation and provides for ongoing outside oversight. The key is commitment: The next mayor must make Zero Litter a top priority.

I shared this Zero Litter approach with an associate, who wrote back to say:

"Simply accepting litter as the cost of doing business as a bustling city is not acceptable, but trying to get a handle on some kind of zero-litter policy all at once is simply too much. There's a movement afoot called 'tactical urbanism' that seeks to make small, incremental improvements to city living through cheap, quick, iterative processes. ... Having leadership that recognizes the utility of that experimental model's mind-set, while also having the power to move larger players to action in a couple of target areas would seem to be a good, logical next step."


Boris Weinstein is founder of Citizens Against Litter and lives in Shadyside (


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