Public Workforce

How Philly’s Streets Commissioner Saves the Green

Carlton Williams has made Philadelphia’s streets cleaner while reducing the frequency of collection and the cost of garbage pickup. How did he do it?
by | June 2012

How does a deputy streets commissioner keep a city clean even in a fiscal crisis? Simply put, he innovates. And that’s exactly what Philadelphia’s Carlton Williams has done since he assumed the position in 2005.

Working with a $100 million annual sanitation budget, Williams has been the creative force behind such innovative projects as the BigBelly trash cans and the Recyclebank rewards program. With the introduction of more than 900 BigBelly solar-powered trash-compacting bins since 2009 -- which can hold five times as much trash as wire-can baskets -- Williams has reduced the cost of garbage pickup and collection frequency. He’s also improved Philly’s recycling rate -- from 5.5 to 20 percent -- through a program that encourages residents to recycle by awarding them points toward rewards such as magazine subscriptions and retail gift cards. He runs the annual Philly Spring Cleanup as well, which is now in its fifth year.

In early March, Williams became the first recipient of the Richardson Dilworth Award for Distinguished Public Service. Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter praised Williams for “creating a more livable, sustainable and cleaner city.”

It’s absolutely vital, Williams says, for cities to keep their streets clean. “We play a very important role in making sure our city is presentable, it’s inviting and that people want to come and live here.”

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