Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Why are litter and illegal dumps problems?

This is from the National Center for Environmental Decision Making Research in the United Kingdom. http://sunsite.utk.edu/ncedr/guides/litter/introduction.htm

Litter and illegally dumped solid wastes pose risks to human health and the environment. Litter is transported into drains and commonly ends up in area rivers or bodies of water. Illegally dumped wastes attract flies and may leach into the soil and groundwater.

Litter and illegal dumping signal a lack of pride in the neighborhood. Illegal dumps are often symptomatic of a community's larger problems, such as overcrowding or illegal housing. Litter and illegal dumping behaviors pose challenges to decisionmakers tasked with controlling or reducing these intermittent, persistent problems. A nationwide 1996 survey reports that over the last three years, average local litter reductions have decreased and litter is increasing. The annual Photometric Index, which measures the distribution of litter at sites within a community. Keep America Beautiful found that overall 1996 litter reductions were less than 1995 reductions and significantly less than 1994 reductions. Most alarming is that this study was conducted in areas with active litter prevention programs, leading one to question whether nationwide litter is significantly increasing.

Although these problems occur nationwide, there is not a universally applicable, federal law that prohibits private individuals from littering or illegally dumping. The collection and disposal of solid waste is traditionally a function of state and local governments. The state laws each prohibit litter and illegal dumping, but the means taken by each state varies greatly.

Data on the volume of litter and illegally dumped waste is not uniformly documented. However, state budgets typically include funds for litter pick-up on state highways. Florida and Texas spend approximately $3 million each year, Kentucky spends $4.0 million each year, and the state and parish governments of Louisiana expend nearly $10 million each year on litter removal and illegal dump clean-up.

Local governments, the primary implementers and enforcers of both the state and local laws, are directly burdened by and must respond to litter and illegal dump sites. The local public works departments typically budget funds for litter pick-up and illegal dump clean-up. The City of Los Angeles spends over $4 million annually to clean up approximately 121,000 tons of trash at illegal dump sites. The District of Columbia's Department of Public Works spends nearly $1 million each year cleaning up illegal dump sites. The City of Berkeley, California cleans up approximately 160 tons of illegally dumped items each year at a cost to the city's taxpayers of over $100,000. A City of Philadelphia study determined that illegal dumping activities cost the city $5 million dollars annually.

Nationwide taxpayers are unnecessarily spending over $200 million dollars each year to pick up litter and illegally dumped solid waste, which could be properly disposed of and managed in the solid waste management system.

Why do people litter and illegally dump?

Keep America Beautiful, a national litter education and prevention organization has found that people litter for three reasons:

* they lack a sense of ownership,
* they believe that someone picks up their litter, or
* the area is already littered.

Rapid growth, increasing mobility, and improper disposal habits cause the existence, proliferation and accumulation of litter.

Seven typical sources of litter include:

* household trash collection and placement for curbside collection,
* commercial waste dumpsters,
* loading docks,
* building construction and demolition activities,
* vehicles traveling with uncovered loads,
* pedestrians, and
* people in motor vehicles.

Twenty percent of litter is generated by people in motor vehicles and pedestrians. Contrary to what one might think, only about twenty percent of litter is attributable to rural and urban areas.

Illegal dumping is due to the lack of convenient solid waste management services and disposal facilities, the price to use those services and facilities, whether local governments are authorized to require residents to pay for and to use the services and facilities. Multiple factors create variations in illegal dumping incidents. A community or private hauler without a permitted municipal solid waste landfill will gain access to a vacant property and dump on it. In other cases, a private property owner seeks to profit by opening his land for dumping construction debris, old appliances, or tires for a lower fee than the municipal landfill. Private landowners may also seek wastes to be dumped as fill on the property.

Research indicates that socioeconomic factors are not an adequate predictor of illegal dumping. Some individuals will chose to engage in illegal dumping despite the convenience or efficiency of the collection and disposal services. A study of the costs and benefits to illegal dumpers found that, the cost of legal disposal must be decreased and the cost of illegal dumping penalties must be increased to reduce the volume of illegal dumping. Some possible socio-economic conditions that may influence illegal dumping are: type of community; demographics; population density; and the amount of spare, abandoned, or undeveloped space.

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