Getting Tough

ACCORDING TO DETECTIVE JIM VANANDE of the Charlotte County, Fla., Sheriff's Office, it costs about $150 to dispose a truckload of trash at the county landfill. But one resident ended up paying $12,000 instead when he was caught illegally dumping and consequently forfeited his truck.

Since July, when the county created an Illegal Dumping Task Force Team — a partnership between the Sheriff's Office, the County Code Compliance Office, and Environmental and Extension Services — Charlotte County has investigated nearly 300 illegal dumping cases and forced 68 violators to clean up 734 cubic yards of debris. A toll-free illegal dumping hotline launched in February encourages local residents to help make the task force team's job easier.

Consider the deleterious effects of illegal dumping, and it's no wonder Charlotte County and other communities are getting tough on lawbreakers. Broken glass and protruding nails create physical dangers for residents and wildlife, and runoff from such sites may contaminate wells and nearby waterways. Illegal dumping sites also are breeding grounds for vermin and insects, and combustion risks are inherent. Undetected by officials, illegal dumps serve as open invitations to more dumping, as well as other criminal activities.

Illegal dumpers in New York City also had best look over their shoulders. The city's Department of Sanitation offers a bounty to residents who report illegal dumping activities, says Kathy Dawkins, spokeswoman for the department. After receiving tips, plainclothes sanitation police monitor locations to catch would-be dumpers. If the officers are successful, tipsters can pocket up to 50 percent of collected fines if their reports result in criminal convictions. In 2005, the department collected $6,200 in fines and paid out half the amount in bounty rewards.

Nationwide, some of the worst violators are firms that are contracted to pick up construction site debris and then, instead of paying for proper disposal, dump the materials illegally. Likewise, unscrupulous tire haulers will charge to dispose of large stockpiles of unwanted tires and then dump their loads in remote areas.

Kentucky is one state that has gotten a handle on its illegal tire dumps. By charging a $1 fee on all new tires sold, the state has set up the Waste Tire Trust Fund, which is used to pay for the management of waste tires and develop markets for recycled tire products. Sara Evans, who manages the Solid Waste Planning Program for Kentucky, says accumulators, transporters and processors of tires are required to register with the state and post a bond. “We inherited some massive tire piles, but to date we've cleaned up about 15 million [tires],” Evans says.

Besides the program, Evans says communities in the state also have installed hidden cameras at illegal dumpsites. “We did a public service announcement and strung together clips of people [dumping illegally],” Evans says. “We got a lot of press coverage on that.”

The non-profit Pennsylvania Resources Council (PRC), which is under the Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful umbrella, also has been aggressive in its efforts to stop illegal dumping. The council sponsors an annual “Lens On Litter” photography competition. The contest, which aims to increase litter awareness, has been successful in unearthing some previously unknown illegal dumpsites in the state, says Barbara Van Clief, eastern regional director for PRC.

“There is nothing sexy about illegal dumping, but unless it's abutting your property, most people don't think about it,” says Karen McCalpin, president of external affairs for Pennsylvania CleanWays, another umbrella organization of Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful. CleanWays, too, has begun dabbling with infrared surveillance cameras, installing them in gray coalfield areas where illegal dumping has become common. “It's a deterrent [to dumpers], if they know someone is watching,” McCalpin says.
Annie Gentile, Contributing Writer
Vernon, Conn.