Trash Academy

We Have a Right to a Clean City!

Trash receptacle made from recycled materials at 7th and Jackson Streets in South Philadelphia. Photo by Steve Weinik.

  • location

    South Philadelphia (Whitman)

  • Neighborhood

    South Philadelphia

  • completion date

    December 31, 2017

What is Trash Academy? 

Trash Academy is a “collaboratory” between community members in Southeast Philly, artists, environmental activists, and high school students from all across the city. Supported through Mural Arts’ Restored Spaces initiative, Trash Academy inspires a wellspring of actions around trash issues, and tests and shares the best grassroots solutions that emerge. The collaborative and inclusive nature of our work is sustained and elevated by the imagination and innovation of artists and designers. A special chemistry occurs at the intersection of our diverse partnerships, one that allows for the creation of projects that pointedly address a social issue as experienced within a specific neighborhood.

Our projects promote:

  1. Grassroots community organizing
  2. Public education
  3. The creation of collaborative and innovative solutions that address the issue of trash through art and sustainability
Visit the Trash Academy Website

Trash Trouble 

Students from across Philadelphia did extensive research into trash, recycling, landfills, and the environment in South Philly. Working with artists, activists, and city employees, the students created a new video series, Trash Trouble—blending documentary, poetry, and design to explore how recycling and landfills function, and to understand how they affect our experience of the city. The videos, facilitated by artists Eva Wŏ and Hilary Brashear, and environmental educator Ciara Williams, contribute to a growing public toolkit for “teach-ins” and other forms of citizen-to-citizen education.

A Big Belly solar compactor in South Philadelphia, wrapped through Trash Academy. Photo by Steve Weinik.

Dirty Danger 

Resulting from the same exploratory research as Trash Trouble, the Dirty Danger project has produced an engaging and educational experience for passersby, via the City’s Big Belly solar trash compactors. The designs, created by Trash Academy youth with artist Eva Wŏ and environmental educator Ciara Williams, feature mystical animals camouflaged in vibrant, abstracted natural environments. Lurking in the background, photorealistic soda bottles, snack bags, and other trash items encourage us to think about where our litter may end up if we don’t properly dispose of it.

Public Education Poster 

Within an environmental science course at South Philadelphia High School, youth engaged in a month-long exploration of trash rights and responsibilities in Philadelphia. The class investigated city systems as well as citizen rights and responsibilities relating to litter in order to develop a tool to engage residents, business owners, and other stakeholders in their community around the issue of trash. Participants interviewed experts and decision makers, visited key sites, and engaged in critical discussion and brainstorming. The class culminated in the creation of a colorful foldout pamphlet aptly titled “We Have a Right to a Clean City: A Practical Guide to Trash Rights and Responsibilities in Philadelphia.” In addition to student drawings and research, the guide features information about the benefits of greening, citywide waste disposal, and recycling services; resources to address illegal dumping; and ways residents can become involved and advocate for themselves and for their communities. The guide is multilingual to better support the diverse population in our targeted area of South Philadelphia.

Download the Public Education Poster (PDF)

The Trashmobile at the Mifflin Square Convening. Photo by Steve Weinik.

The Trashmobile 

The Trashmobile is a mobile unit designed by youth to educate, inform, and collect information about people’s experience of trash and trash management in Philadelphia. The Trashmobile is designed to meet communities where they are at neighborhood events, community meetings, street fairs, etc., and to provide a playful entry point to a discussion about a complicated issue. Youth from Trash Academy created games and activities designed to engage their audiences around the issue of trash. The Trashmobile is operated by a group of industrious high school students from all across the city.

A Trash Academy intervention in South Philadelphia. Photo by Steve Weinik.

Neighborhood Interventions 

Utilizing the public nature of corners as an asset for addressing the trash issue and rebuilding community connections, Neighborhood Interventions reinforces the public domain as a positive space for sharing knowledge and getting to know one’s neighbors. In a neighborhood in which trash is one of many factors which divide people, the process of the creation, installation, and exploration of the corner interventions are fun and generate new and unexpected relationships. These interventions are designed to respond to specific needs in a specific community, using the process of public art making to build connections while addressing real issues and needs such as storage of trash cans, outdoor seating, and residential dumping in public trash cans.

Read About Trash Academy in Greenworks Philadelphia


Major support for Trash Academy is provided by the Surdna Foundation. Restored Spaces is funded by PTS Foundation, Surdna Foundation, and the FAO Schwarz Family Foundation.