According to Let’s Do It!, a global organization helping to clean up illegal dump sites, there is approximately 100 million tons of illegal garbage lying around the world. It’s a problem that affects all parts of the United States, particularly big cities and rural areas.
Illegal dumping affects the environment, public health, and increases your taxes. Although the problem may be caused by relatively few people, it affects everyone. Luckily, cities across the country have stepped up enforcement and have raised awareness about the problem in recent years.
Today, technology makes it easier than ever to report illegal dumping sites to local authorities, and stiffer penalties have people thinking twice before tossing an old mattress or scrap tires on the side of the road. The information below describes a quick overview of the problem, the many consequences involved and solutions to the issue.
It can be a felony offense
Depending on your local and state regulations, illegal dumping is a misdemeanor or felony punishable by jail time in some cases. Fines start at $50 for minor offenses and can reach up to thousands of dollars in some situations.
Some states are really cracking down on the problem and doling out tougher penalties to offenders. New Jersey, for instance, implemented a new plan in 2014 that will punish illegal dumpers with up to $50,000 fines, forfeiture of vehicles involved in the dumping, and possible jail time.
New Jersey’s “Don’t Waste Our Open Space” campaign consists of a statewide crackdown of illegal dumping, involving the use of hidden cameras strategically positioned at common dump sites and public involvement to ID offenders when necessary. Learn more about this initiative here.
Is there a difference between littering and illegal dumping?
In most states, yes. Litter is generally defined as a small quantity of waste disposed of illegally (e.g., throwing a candy wrapper out a car window). Illegal dumping is generally recognized as disposing of a larger volume or weight of waste/debris (e.g., dumping furniture, tires, mattresses, or construction debris).
Littering is considered a minor offense in most cases, but illegal dumping can lead to felony charges, hefty fines, and jail time.
In Georgia, for instance, litter is defined as being less than 10 lbs or under 15 cubic feet in volume. It defines waste as being more than 10 lbs or greater than 15 cubic feet in volume. Littering carries fines of at least $100, while illegally dumping large quantities of waste can carry fines of up to $25,000 and/or two years of prison for a second offense.
Immediate health risks posed by illegal dump sites include physical and chemical injury to people, especially children, coming into contact with dangerous debris, such as rusty nails, chemicals, or sharp metals.
Other adverse health risks come into play when dangerous chemicals, like automobile fluids, household cleaners, industrial wastes, appliances containing chemicals (e.g. refrigerators), and tires, are illegally disposed of. The chemicals leach into the soil and area waterways. This is the same soil we use to grow crops and the same water we drink.
A third negative consequence common to illegal dumping sites is the ideal conditions these places make for rodents, vermin, and mosquitoes. Disease-carrying rodents love to call these places home, and this poses a major health hazard to anyone living nearby.
Likewise, mosquitoes thrive inside the moist, warm conditions offered by disposed of tires. In fact, an EPA report states mosquitoes “multiply 100 times faster than normal in the warm, stagnant water standing in scrap tire casings.”
Illegal dumping costs you money
“Out of sight, out of mind” is often the mindset of people who dump wastes illegally, but that’s far from reality. Cleaning up, monitoring, and enforcing instances of illegal dumping cost taxpayers a significant amount of money each year. The EPA mentions that some urban areas in the U.S. spend “several million dollars per year on cleanup, hauling, and disposal” of illegally dumped wastes.
It’s a problem in every state. For example, in Pennsylvania, it costs taxpayers about $10.1 million per year to clean up roadside litter and $835 per ton to clean up an illegal dump site, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.
Illegal dumping also drives down property values due to safety concerns and aesthetic reasons. Additionally, it negatively affects residential and commercial development, so local economies suffer as well.
Whether you realize it or not, “midnight dumping” as it’s sometimes called affects you financially, even when you’re not the offender.
Aside from being an eyesore, illegal dumping wreaks havoc on the environment. As previously mentioned, chemicals from wastes and certain appliances can leach into soil and local waterways causing damage to plants, wildlife, and water quality.
Other issues include increased risk of flooding and forest fires. Wastes dumped in waterways can block the natural flow of water and lead to flooding issues over time. Illegal dumps are also notoriously susceptible to fire caused spontaneously or by arson. Fire destroys area forests and homes, causing both an environmental and financial disaster.
According to Project Green Sweep of the Ohio EPA, old appliances can release chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) into the air, which is damaging to the earth’s ozone layer.
What can I do about the problem?
If you have a smartphone, it’s easy to help. An app like TrashOut (which we first introduced here) makes it easy to report illegal dump sites. You simply fire up the app, take a picture of the illegally dumped waste, let your phone’s GPS grab the location, and submit it. TrashOut reports it to the local authorities and will even keep you in the loop as to what actions are taken to clean up the area.
Some cities have dedicated departments to handle unauthorized dumping of wastes. Check by going to your local government website, or by calling the environmental division of your local government. If your city uses the 3-1-1 hotline program, it can often be used to report dump sites. See a list of cities that utilize the 3-1-1 non-emergency municipal service line.
Some cities offer rewards for information leading to the conviction of illegal dumpers. According to CalRecycle, the city of Sacramento and Shasta County offer $250 rewards, and San Bernardino County offers rewards of up to $1,000 for tips leading to a conviction.
The proper way to dispose of bulk amounts of waste and debris
The correct ways to dispose of bulky wastes and large volumes of waste/debris can be found below.
- Contact your local trash hauler to inquire about bulky waste pick-ups. This service is typically limited in the amount/type of junk or debris that’s allowed. There’s also an additional fee for this service.
- Rent a dumpster. This is one of the most economical ways to dispose of large amounts of household junk, appliances, construction and demolition (C&D) debris, yard wastes, and more.
- Hire a junk removal company to haul away the waste or debris for you. For small amounts of junk, such as a few pieces of furniture, mattresses or appliances, hiring a junk removal company is an economical choice. Prices generally start at $75 to $100 for small pickups. Compare dumpster rental vs. hiring a junk removal company.
- Drop off the waste or debris yourself at a local landfill, licensed transfer station or recycling facility. With this option, you have the expense of paying tipping fees for each load. This can cost $50/ton and up. Just remember to factor in your fuel expenses and time required to finish the job – this expense can add up quickly.
- “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” Someone else may value whatever junk you’re trying to get rid of. For instance, that old cedar siding you tore off your house to replace with new low-maintenance vinyl siding may seem like junk to you, but there’s a market out there for old cedar siding. Place an ad on Craigslist or Freecycle and you’d be surprised how fast someone will come around and pick it up. In most cities, this option is completely free!
- Dispose of household hazardous wastes (HHW) by dropping off at the nearest HHW processing facility, or by checking your local government website for information about when/where the next HHW collection event is being held. Most medium-to-large cities in the U.S. offer one or both of these options. If your city does not, contact your local waste hauler, landfill or a dumpster rental company for more information.
Do your part and help clean up your neighborhood. There are over 300 million people in the U.S. and each person generates an average of more than 4 lbs. of garbage per day. That’s a whole lot of waste to deal with!
It’s becoming increasingly important to make sure waste is put in the proper place. It starts with awareness. If you found this article helpful, please share it with others to help spread the word about the damaging effects of illegal dumping and what we can do to stop it.