For many communities, illegal dumping can be dangerous to humans and other animals, as well as to the environment, if not addressed. Chemicals from dump sites can contaminate wells and surface water, and are prone to ignite. Illegally dumped tires usually are infested with disease-carrying mosquitoes.
To fight "wildcat dumping," the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 5 in Chicago, has written an "Illegal Dumping Prevention Guidebook." This free guide includes a toolkit, case studies and suggestions on how to establish a prevention program.
Typically, businesses illegally dump nonhazardous wastes to avoid high collection fees from commercial haulers. Residents also dump to avoid high collection fees or because no such service is offered. Materials dumped vary but often include construction and demolition (C&D) wastes, automobiles, furniture and medical wastes, the guide says. Common areas for illegal dumping include vacant or poorly lit property, rural roads and alleys. And, to compound the problem, dumped materials often attract more dumping.
To help eliminate this dilemma, the guide recommends that communities offer residents "affordable pickup service for trash and recyclables." Also, the public should be informed as to which materials are prohibited and about alternative disposal options.
According to the report, program development must address several key issues:
- Leadership by local officials;
- Cooperation among authorities, communities and industry;
- Publicizing success; and
- An integrated approach.
Local officials must support the effort with funding, equipment and labor. For example, even though ordinances may exist, they are useless without enforcement. Also, local authorities must encourage residents to report illegal dumping.
Cooperation among authorities can be as simple as setting up a special task force that includes police, health, environmental, public works and sanitation departments.
Publicizing the program's successes "is necessary to obtain continued support from high-level authorities and to maintain cooperation between authorities and community groups," the guide says. Also, this will help track and evaluate the program's success, which is useful for cost-benefit analyses, budget hearings and grant program accountability.
The toolkit suggests certain elements that should be integrated into the program's approach:
Site maintenance and controls. Communities can take simple steps to ensure that sites stay clean. The first step is to organize labor, resources and funding for site cleanup. Labor can be found in local organizations such as youth groups or volunteers, or can be hired.
The guidebook cites a nonprofit organization, Pennsylvania CleanWays, that helps clean dump sites in rural areas by involving residents, law enforcement officials, businesses, haulers and landfill operators. Pennsylvania residents report illegal dumping to the police, and if possible, residents clean up waste to make hauling efforts easier. Working together, participants have cleaned up more than 40 rural sites, according to the guide.
Projects usually are funded by government agencies or private companies, which donate cleanup supplies, such as rakes, gloves and containers, as well as heavy equipment. To keep sites clean, communities can post illegal dumping signs, install lighting and barriers, and maintain landscaping.
Community outreach and involvement. Educating the community is a key step in outreach and involvement. For example, the city of Phoenix created ProjectHalt (Help Attack Littering and Trashing). Once residents discovered how to become involved, whom to contact for assistance and how to report dumping, citizen volunteers monitored high-frequency dumping areas. In 1996 and 1997, the program helped to clean up more than 15,000 tons of waste, the guide adds.
Targeted enforcement. Communities also can prevent dumping by enforcing ordinances and codes. Although dumping may be prohibited by federal and state laws, ordinances and codes can help communities become less vulnerable to dumping.
For example, in some areas, it may be less expensive to dump and pay a fine than to properly dispose of materials. The guide says city ordinances should define the illegal activities and punishments including fines, incarceration, license revocation, etc.
In the end, enforcement and prosecution proves helpful in stopping illegal activities, the guide states. For example, Los Angeles spends more than $4 million per year to clean dumped materials. To thwart offenders, the city created a task force of two police officers and 16 police-trained volunteers who watched areas where dumping frequently occurred. More than 100 arrests were made during 1995 and 1997, and the program saved $112,000 in police salaries using volunteers, according to the report.
Program measurement. Tracking illegal dumping helps authorities to evaluate the affects of prevention efforts. In some cases, these tracking methods are becoming high-tech. For instance, some cities are using geographic information systems (GIS) to assist with tracking and monitoring illegal dump sites electronically, according to the report. Additionally, a computer database can track the status of violations, fines, cleanup activities and surveillance.
Evaluating information allows authorities to identify successes and failures, and more importantly to determine what adjustments would contribute to avoiding failures in the future.