Green Wilmington

Beauty is more than skin deep. It’s in the way a place cares for itself. With innovative programs and beautiful parks, the city is an environmental leader.

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As director of the Delaware Center for Horticulture, Pamela Sapko chairs the Wilmington Beautification Commission, which plants new trees and flowers across the city.

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Photograph by Tom Nutter

Look around:

Wilmington has gone green.

By initiating programs and education ecampaigns to create a more beautiful and sustainable place, the city is making it easy for the community to serve the environment and, in some cases, have some real fun.


A tree grows in Wilmington—many of them, actually. Lots of flowers, too.

On behalf of the city of Wilmington, chief of staff Bill Montgomery recently accepted the first-place Award for Excellence in Community Trees presented by the Home Depot Foundation and the United States Conference of Mayors.

The national award honored “the outstanding, innovative work of public-private partnerships engaged in enhancing and strengthening communities through the strategic use of trees.”

The Trees for Wilmington program of the Wilmington Beautification Commission formed in 2004 to advance environmental, economic and social well-being by encouraging people in the residential and business areas to beautify their urban landscape.

“We began by evaluating 80 sites from which to select areas for beautification projects,” says Pamela Sapko, chair of the Wilmington Beautification Commission and director of the Delaware Center for Horticulture. “One of the six initial sites selected was Kosciuszko Park, which had large trees that failed. We did evaluation and pruning for the health of the trees, and planted about 60 new trees—some with help from DuPont volunteers, some with Arbor Day Program volunteers through the Delaware Center for Horticulture.”

More than 10,000 bulbs were also planted through community participation. Supporters have since formed the Friends of Kosciuszko Park. The Kosciuszko Park project is one of many wonderful examples of people working together to improve the quality of life in their community. Their efforts will leave a beautiful legacy for generations to come.

Recycling Fever

Whoever said mandatory recycling was no fun? Wilmington got it right.

By using the single-stream recycling bin provided by RecycleBank, the city’s new recycling partner, residents can earn up to $25 in RecycleBucks.

“Single stream” means everything goes into one bin—there’s no need to separate glass, plastic or paper. RecycleBucks, earned automatically, can be redeemed at a variety of local stores, restaurants, cinemas and grocery stores.

Each collection bin is coded with a radio frequency identification device that is assigned to a household. On collection day, when the bin is placed on a truck, the bin number and the weight of recyclable materials is automatically logged to that household’s account to tally RecycleBucks. Residents can then go online to use the credits they’ve earned with the businesses that participate.

The pilot program went citywide—to 17,700 households—earlier this year. The city retrofitted its trucks to accommodate the new technology, and it converted a regular trash collection day to a recycling day. In that way, it didn’t incur the expense of adding another collection day specifically for recycling. The city pays RecycleBank $2 a month per household for it services.

Though the program was introduced as “mandatory,” public works commissioner Kash Srinivasan says, “We’re not interested in penalties. We’re interested in making it work and getting people involved.”

Previous efforts were voluntary, and they met with poor compliance. The city hopes that RecycleBank’s innovative approach will change that. Srinivasan estimates a savings on landfill fees of $350,000 a year if 60 percent of city residents participate. Savings could hit $800,000 if 80 percent participate.

City operations director Al Ballard says “We’re seeing very strong performance, not only in tonnages, but also in participation. Our best diversion rate is about 40 percent. We’re looking to push that over 50 percent.”

Some recyclable materials are still getting mixed in with the solid waste stream on Thursdays and Fridays. But if those materials were put into the recycling bin, the diversion rate could be well over 50 percent.

“For a city that a little over a year ago had no recycling program and now has 40 percent compliance,” Ballard says, “we’re doing great.”


In May PhillyCarShare-Delaware pulled into town, then parked two Toyota Prius hybrids on French Street, thus kicking off Wilmington’s pilot car-sharing program. The two cars, used by 15 employees, replaced—and effectively removed—six fleet vehicles from the city’s inventory. While the city test-drives the program, the goal is to expand it to include residents.

At first it would seem that sharing a car with seven or eight people would be difficult, but somehow it works. In Philadelphia, there are 20,000 people successfully sharing 350 vehicles, which equates to about 57 people per vehicle. Program participants are given key fobs, make reservations either online or by phone, and they can have use of a car that very day.

“Average members use the car six to seven hours per month,” says Kathy Izumi, marketing program manager, PhillyCarShare. “I think that members paying for the hours they’re using the car helps them be more mindful of their driving habits.”

Srinivasan explains that by introducing car sharing to the city of Wilmington, there will be greater residential density in downtown by encouraging a culture that doesn’t need to own cars. It will give employees of city-based businesses the option of arriving at work by alternate means of transportation because they have a car available to them during the workday.

“It’s an energy efficient effort on the city’s part, to provide people with alternate means of transportation,” says Srinivasan. From an operations standpoint, “The beauty of PhillyCarShare is that it takes us out of the middle. All that’s required of us is providing parking spaces on the street.” The city pays $1,400 per month, per vehicle, for the program.

Companies that adopt the program could see a reduced need for parking spaces at their downtown offices, and developers would benefit from that as well. Representatives from Buccini/Pollin Group have already spoken with Izumi to explore the idea of including the car-sharing program as an amenity of residence at their new properties. By offering alternative transportation and choosing low emissions vehicles, developers are also eligible for LEED certification points.

Elimination of car expenses for some potential residents could put a lease or mortgage at a new downtown or Riverfront property within reach.

Participants report personal savings of $4,000 per year from not owning a car. Since joining the program in 2004, the city of Philadelphia has relinquished 330 municipal vehicles and saved taxpayers $2 million per year.

When looking at the cost savings of the PhillyCarShare-Delaware program, the city of Wilmington found good news.

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