California Gives License to Dump

In 1995, Michael Ball, owner of MB Opportunities in Amador County, Calif., received a waste tire hauling permit from the California Integrated Waste Management Board in Sacramento. He says he set out to dump his wares at Fine and Sons, a wrecking yard in Martell, Calif. But, according to Ball, the site was overrun with 90,000 illegally dumped tires from the previous owners.

Because of those tires - and his company's alleged dumping at two non-permitted locations - Ball was fined $9,000 and his hauling license was revoked in January 1999. The license was reinstated in February after MB Opportunities appealed the decision and cleaned up the two non-permitted sites as well as the Fine and Sons site. Ball says he paid $120,000 to clean Fine and Sons. The board gave Ball until Jan. 1, 2000 to pay a reduced fine of $4,500, and credited him with the $750 he already paid.

Ball says he is working on getting reimbursed for cleaning up the Fine and Sons tire pile that was not his. But even though the situation was difficult, he says he understands the need for the California Integrated Waste Management Board's tire hauling regulations.

"There are so many people who will collect money for tires and then just go dump them," he says. "There are a lot of illegal dumpsites."

In 1995, tire hauler licenses became the law in California to curb illegal dumping in a state with some 30 million waste tires a year, according to John Frith, public affairs director for the 9-year-old California Integrated Waste Management Board. The board was created by legislation in 1989 to oversee solid waste facilities and reduce waste in landfills. Nevada, Florida and a handful of other states have similar boards.

About 15 million tires sit in unpermitted, illegal facilities in California, down from the estimated 48 million before the registration law, Frith says. But the problem is far from eliminated, he adds.

"Hauling tires can be a fairly lucrative business," he says. "California is a large state, and there's a lot of land here where people can take a load of tires and dump them in the dark of night."

Currently, 8,000 tire haulers and 900 companies have permits. Frith says he does not know how many are not registered, but expects that some "fly-by-night operators" still may not have permits. Registered tire haulers have decals on their vehicles and keep detailed records of tire pick ups and disposals. They also are subject to board inspection.

In March, the board and the California Highway Patrol staged the first of several proposed highway crackdowns on illegal dumping. Checkpoints were set up in the Los Angeles area for two days, and 22 citations were issued for unlicensed vehicles.

"Compliance is not 100 percent by any means, and it indicates we have work to do to get the word out to haulers," Frith says. "But it also sends a strong signal to haulers considering skirting the law that the state does mean business and this is an important environmental issue."

The board has another goal for California's waste tires, which could eliminate the 25-cent fee residents pay for each new tire they buy, he says.

"Our goal is not just to clean up, but to stimulate a sustainable market so [waste] tires become a marketable commodity and actually will be worth something," Frith says. "It's a self-sustaining cleanup program that the public doesn't have to continue to pay for forever."