Illegal Public Dumping: Solutions to a Pressing Public Issue

By John Livingstone, AICP

I’m writing this article in the hope that it will act as a catalyst to find an efficient way to reduce illegal dumping. Cleaning up after the fact is costly, and the piles of trash alongside the road can be an unsightly health problem.

Given the global and local problems of dealing with trash I feel this is a subject worth researching.  I think it would be a great research project for a student to try to identify the root of the problem and come up with a solution.  Is this is a problem more related to single-family, commercial or multifamily developments?  Does it occur more frequently in certain areas?  Is there less dumping within a certain radius of a refuse center?  Should zoning laws for new multifamily developments require large areas for recycling and bulk trash, or a development fee to help pay for the city recycle program? Do we need more refuse centers?

Some possible reasons for illegal dumping could be because it is difficult to dump large items if you don’t have a truck. If you’re moving, it may not be worth the cost to take your old furniture and mattress with you.  People could get frustrated with the long lines at the refuse center.  Occasionally on weekends the dump closes early because it is full.  If your truck is full of trash to take to the dump, and the dump is closed, you could be stuck taking it with you to work Monday morning or dumping it somewhere.

On a short term basis the city could put a bounty on trash.  This could be a onetime budgeted amount done as a temporary experiment to see how long the money lasts and the impact on the trash. The city could provide gift certificates to anyone dropping off trash at the refuse center.  This could encourage people with trucks to randomly pick up trash to turn it in for the gift certificates which could reduce some of the burden for city crews and trucks. A set bounty on trash items could be set, such as $5.00 for a queen size mattress.  To take it a step further the city could post the spots they need cleaned up on a neighborhood or city webpage and set a bounty for cleaning up that individual spot.  Simply provide the before and after pictures when you turn in the trash and reap the bounty.

Other ideas such as hanging a large banner across the fence at the refuse center saying “free dumping here” may help reduce illegal dumping.  Or instead of no dumping signs, replace them with colorful signs that say, “Please dump your trash for free at the refuse center, Mahalo”.   Increasing dumping fines and creating a reward for people who take pictures of the dumpers could act as a deterrent.

Create a yard waste only facility or a separate line for yard waste drop off.  The City could contract with a company to allow free dumping of yard waste and free pickup of compost. This could keep the weekend yard cleanup line separate from the trash line and help recycle the green waste by turning it into compost and giving it away.  Spreading the news about free compost could help lower water consumption and promote more food gardens.

Find a way to speed up the line or place containers temporarily at areas where there is frequent illegal dumping?  It would be cheaper to pick up the bin compared to collecting the trash by hand and placing it in the bin.   I’m familiar with two mainland cities that provide once a year neighborhood bulk trash collection.  One city provides large bins, one for trash and one for recycling.  The other city allows everyone to put items out on the street for a special pickup once a year.

Hopefully this article can be a sounding board to look at some innovative solutions to the problem.

The views discussed in this article are those of the contributing author and do not reflect those of the APA Hawai‘i Chapter.