At the end of Goodie Mob’s legendary track “Beautiful Skin,” which appeared on the group’s soulful second studio album Still Standing, group member Big Gipp unleashed an agitated rant about neighborhood cleanliness not typically heard on Hip-Hop albums of the late ‘90’s:
“I’m so sick of seein’ trash on the damn streets, man. I’m sick of ya’ll folk comin’ up outta the store and takin’ your lil candy out and throwin’ your lil’ paper, it’s f*ckin up the hood.” – Big Gipp.
Gipp clearly had enough of the common trope of young Black men gathering on the street to pour garden variety hood libations in celebration of the dead. He instead admonishes Black people for their negative environmental impact, once again hammering home his larger point:
“We’re f*ckin’ up our own hood.”
While Big Gipp was observing from his Atlanta perch some 20 years ago, that stance still has relevance and resonance as we march forward into the 21st Century. How we discard of trash, recycle plastics and glass, and dispose of cigarette butts goes far deeper than the idea of visual aesthetics. What we do as citizens whether we’re on our stoops, backyard, or in the street has far-reaching implications. It seems harmless to think that tossing the aluminum foil wrapper from a piece of gum onto the ground can lead to drastic changes to the environment.
But it does.
Earth911.com’s Becky Hammad wrote in October 2017 “Recycling Mysteries: Candy Wrappers” to examine the biodegradability, or lack thereof, of candy and gum wrappers. Hammad spoke with Detroit packaging consultant Sterling Anthony, who supported Hammad’s findings that candy and gum wrappers are not fit for recycling thus raising their potential as environmental hazards.
Packaging consultant Sterling Anthony says it all comes down to the state of the recyclable materials market.
“PET plastic, the plastic used for most water and soft drinks, is made from one material, and that material can be broken down into materials that can be used for other items. So, there’s a market for it,” Anthony says.
Because plastic bottles can be recovered easily and economically, and there’s a healthy end-use market for their recovered materials, waste management facilities have an incentive for their collection and processing. However, candy wrappers are usually made up of mixed materials, making the recovery of useful materials difficult and expensive.
As a result, most waste management companies, manufacturers and municipal recycling facilities tend to turn their backs from candy wrappers.
Admittedly, it is frustrating to watch persons both young and old using the ground as their garbage bin – when there’s one standing right in front of them. Even with advances from companies such as Nashville Wraps and ClearBags offering biodegradable candy packaging options, getting many Philadelphians to stop discarding waste in a casual manner will present steep challenges.
Readers of a certain age will recall a time when our elders would take a moment out of their day to sweep porches, sidewalks, curbs, and even water drains to make certain that garbage didn’t fester. For them, the practice may have been born of trash simply being unsightly, but it aided the environment tremendously.
With some of those traditions going the wayside as our older loved ones age, the generations that came after have yet to embrace the importance of environmental soundness and – as Overbook Educational Environmental Center executive director Jerome Shabazz reflected via ecoWURD previously – Black people being “the original environmentalists.” From the farmlands of the Deep South to the densely-populated inner cities many of us chose to dwell, there was a true sense of what waste management and overall cleanliness meant to all.
This idea that caring about the environment is something only crunchy White college grads “slumming it in the hood” do has to change. Black Philadelphia has forgotten that it isn’t just about pride and loving the hood as it were, but it’s also about wanting to protect future generations from our mistakes. If we wish to shield Philly and the world from further environmental damage, Generations X, Millennials (Generation Y in some circles), and the surging Generation Z will have to form consensus beyond basic linear approaches.
The Philadelphia Citizen uncovered in an August 2018 piece “Clean Up, Philly” that the city was the largest in the nation without street cleaning. A city with 1.6 million residents and growing doesn’t have basic services in place to keep streets clean. The Citizen’s piece highlights the problems most city governments have when it comes to handling trash and litter. As Mayor Jim Kenney employed his top-level trash task force known as the Zero Waste and Litter Cabinet, while launching another series of studies under the city’s GovLab arm (close to impossible to find), it becomes clear the city is concerned with waste management, litter reduction, and trash removal – but it hasn’t addressed the mindset triggering these issues, or how it got that way in the first place. Resources that could be applied to aid in better outreach or provide easier pathways to solutions versus navigating Phila.gov’s massive website and its myriad twists and turns.
This is what Big Gipp was saying. It will take a Herculean effort to get a whole community as fed up as he was. Perhaps, with some guidance from leaders, activists, the city, and most of all concerned citizens wanting to beautify and sustain their respective hoods, we can shift the tide towards a greener, and safer city landscape in the decades to come.