City Guide: Philadelphia

Zero Waste City Guide: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania | Litterless

I lived in Philadelphia for four years, and I have so much love for the city. You can walk down a cobblestone street whose homes date to the 1700s, eat incredible food, and get anywhere using public transportation. If you’re planning a trip there, I have a few suggestions for memorable activities, places to eat, and ways to keep your trip zero waste.


-Barnes Foundation: The Barnes is an art museum unlike any other. The walls are covered with works of post-impressionist and early modern art, all purchased in the 1900s by an individual collector, and the museum is housed in a gorgeous building, too. Tickets are required, so plan ahead if you'd like to visit.

-Mural Arts Program: Murals dot the city, brightening up homes and businesses. I love the surprise of spotting one while walking around.

-Longwood Gardens: If you love plants or gardens, take a detour slightly outside the city to Longwood Gardens to see incredible horticulture with a historic bent: the gardens date to the 19th century. Such a beautiful place to wander.

-Grab coffee or tea: My favorites include United by Blue in Old City or in University City (they remove a pound of trash from the ocean for every purchase, plus they have a compost bin alongside their trash and recycling) and Talula's Daily, down by Washington Square Park (they have delicious kombucha on tap, too). And, reader Emily recommends Bodhi Coffee in Headhouse Market on 2nd Street - they compost all of their food scraps and paper towels, and they don't even have a trash can in their shop! So great. You can see more of my tips for staying zero waste at coffee shops, here.

-Walk, everywhere: The downtown area can be traversed in a day’s rambles. Start at 3rd & Chestnut St. and end your day in the Rittenhouse Square neighborhood for dinner, stopping along the way to duck into alleyways, read plaques about historic sites, and sit in some of the city’s many parks. Be sure to walk along Spruce Street to see houses that date from the Revolutionary Era. The city's bike share is also a wonderful option for seeing the city.


-Tired Hands Brewing Company: If you find yourself northwest of the city in the Main Line neighborhoods, go to Tired Hands. Like everywhere these days, they offer local craft brews - but the real draw is the food. Homemade pickles and sandwiches that you’ll remember for years (not an exaggeration!) are served in a cozy, intimate setting. They use cloth napkins, so don’t worry about making trash here - you won’t.

-White Dog Café: I’m as happy at a cheap little place as I am at an upscale restaurant, where often the food doesn’t live up to the cost. This isn’t the case at White Dog, which has locations near University of Pennsylvania and on the Main Line. They serve local and seasonal food with subtle flavor combinations that make their meals memorable and outstanding. And, the bonus with fancier restaurants, including this one: it's easy to stay zero waste with no paper napkins, disposable cups, or plastic straws to worry about. (Bonus: at their Sansom Street location, they compost their food scraps!)

-The Gold Standard: Visit this West Philadelphia restaurant for brunch; instead of offering the boring breakfast runaround of granola, fruit cup, and tasteless pancakes, their menu has all kinds of soul-warming dishes. Get the steamed spinach in the spring, which feels like a tonic and tastes savory and wonderful.

-Anywhere: One of my favorite ways to experience Philadelphia is to wander downtown without a plan. The restaurant density is high in the center of the city, so before too long you’ll stumble upon somewhere that’s just what you’re after. A few favorites I’ve found this way: Famous Fourth Street, Jasmine Thai, Serafina, Devil’s Alley. As long as you arrive with your own cloth napkin, water bottle, and fork for good measure, you most likely will be able to stay zero waste.

Stay zero waste:

-Grocery Shop: Mariposa Co-op in West Philadelphia offers local produce and package-free dry goods to fuel your travels, such as nuts, granola, and dried fruit. Northwest of the downtown area, try Weaver's Way Co-op, whose bulk aisle and produce departments feature a large variety of options. You can also visit Reading Terminal Market for a bulk shop, as well as other unpackaged goodies. And some of the Asian groceries near South Street feature package-free tofu and fish.

-Compost: For a home or apartment, Bennett Composting offers weekly pickup for a small fee - they provide the bucket, you provide the food scraps! If you're traveling and need a place to compost just a handful of things, stop by the United by Blue coffee shop in Old City or on the University of Pennsylvania campus to purchase a coffee and put your compost in their bins. You can also drop off small amounts of compost at Bodhi Coffee in Headhouse Market on 2nd Street, or at certain Whole Foods stores.

If you have anything to add, I’d love to hear it. I’m headed back there in November to visit family and friends - can’t wait.