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One man’s trash, a neighborhood treasure: How one neighbor upcycled pollinator-friendly planters out of litter.
Philly

One man’s trash, a neighborhood treasure: How one neighbor upcycled pollinator-friendly planters out of litter.

People keep littering in Olde Richmond. So one woman made planters out of discarded tires for the neighbors to enjoy.

It’s no surprise that Philadelphians are sick of litter. But instead of ignoring the perpetual problem, Natalie Shaak decided to turn discarded lemons into a neighborhood lemonade.

“I hate living surrounded by trash.”

– Natalie Shaak

Shaak, a resident of Olde Richmond, witnesses a LOT of dumped trash. Living across the street from the Wawa off of Aramingo Avenue, she even has become notorious for being “the lady that picks up trash” in the neighborhood.

Recently, a neighbor asked her for trash bags to pick up a short-dumping incident, including a carpet, an entire wardrobe of clothes, and four tires. However, Shaak knew that the tires had to be reported to 311, but that it would also take a long time for the city to pick them up.

A lightbulb went off. Shaak also lives close to the Webb Street playground and had the idea to turn the tires into planters.

“Seeing something as big as like tires, it seems really unfortunate to just throw more stuff into a landfill when they can potentially be used for something else, especially something more beautiful,” stated Shaak.

She found leftover paint in the basement, was given another neighbor’s dirt from their flower bed, picked up landscaping fabric and pollinator-friendly flowers from Greensgrow.

To prep the planters, Shaak washed the tires (to ensure that grease, oil, or other road debris was clear for the new planters), primed them, and spruced them up with a new coat of paint. Next, she placed the landscaping fabric underneath and planted the flowers.

Webb Street playground upcycled planters

Like many residents, she’s been home a lot more over the past year while working in her role as the Operations Manager of the Center for Hunger-Free Communities. She’s also put in a lot more effort in her front yard garden. Shaak has noticed how the plants have provided community building, with new opportunities to talk to neighbors, and beauty on the block. Plus, gardening can bring joy and calm in chaotic times.

playground planters

“It gives me an excuse to get up from my desk and go out and water the plants, which is, you know, something that we all need,” said Shaak.

City, commercial or community? Neighbors aren’t waiting on “others” to do it.

wawa aramingo avenue
Litter outside of the Wawa is a regular and ongoing occurrence, according to neighbors.

Despite living close to Wawa, Rite Aid, and other properties, the city and businesses don’t pick up the litter accumulated on these bustling commercial corridors. As Shaak explained, “I know that if it sits there, there’s going to be more. And if someone dumps tires, then someone’s going to dump more tires and then someone’s going to dump other stuff.”

Shaak has taken the initiative, hoping other neighbors will help pick up the slack that these entities haven’t. Plus, there are other benefits. “It gives my neighbors and me a little more pride in where we live,” said Shaak.


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Julie Hancher is Editor-in-Chief of Green Philly, sharing her expertise of all things sustainable in the city of brotherly love. She enjoys long walks in the park with local beer and greening her travels, cooking & cat, Sir Floofus Drake. View all posts by Julie Hancher

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