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Cleaning Up Illegal Dumping Sites: Community-based Strategies

Deterring and enforcing on illegal dumpers requires a comprehensive public awareness campaign, hands-on activities and an enforcement program.

Public awareness campaigns

The following are some of the tasks that can be used by communities to develop a public awareness campaign. These tasks can be modified to fit your community since every community is different and no one process will fit all communities. Example “tips” for citizens and property owners are also provided.

  • Identify your target audience (general public, school-aged children, construction companies)
  • Define your objective and your message (stop forest land dumping, construction debris dumping, general dumping)
  • Identify available funds (Where do we find the money? Can we stretch our dollars by using public service announcements?)
  • Identify mechanisms/tools to deliver your message (newspaper ads, news releases, radio messages)
  • Develop a schedule to implement your campaign (schedule to create, produce and present materials, budget schedule)
  • Obtain support from elected officials, other public agencies (city/county commissioners, police, public health, solid waste departments)
  • Implement campaign (distribute materials, run ads and announcements)
  • Evaluate success of campaign and report results (Have dumping practices changed over a certain period of time? Provide report to both citizens and public officials.)
  • Modify campaign based on evaluation (Target a different audience? Use different media?)
  • Start the process all over again!

Tips and actions

Law enforcement personnel aren't the only people who can put an end to littering and illegal dumping. Citizens can take action and put an end to these crimes by teaming up with local officials.

  • Always dispose of your own litter properly by closing dumpster lids. If the dumpster has no lid, place debris in bags and secure with ties before depositing in a dumpster. Otherwise, it might blow away.

  • Do not transport unsecured debris in the back of an open vehicle. If it blows out, it becomes litter.

  • Tell friends and neighbors that illegal dumping is a crime.

  • If you participate in a neighborhood watch program, add to your list of suspicious activities trash-laden pickup trucks cruising the neighborhood.

  • Write or call your local or county elected officials. Let them know that litter and illegal dumping in your community is a major concern.

  • Organize volunteer cleanups of illegal dump sites. People are less likely to litter a clean area.

  • Invite local officials to speak to your neighborhood association or other organizations about illegal dumping.

  • If you're having construction or remodeling work done, ask where the debris is being taken and ask for a disposal receipt.

  • If you have property that gets dumped on, close off access and post "No Dumping" signs.

  • Don't dispose of yard debris near streams or lakes. The extra nutrients from the debris pollute the water and rob oxygen needed by stream life.

  • If you witness illegal dumping, report it immediately to your local law enforcement agency. Try to get a license plate number.

  • Report dump sites (after the fact) to your local solid waste or health department.

Public awareness campaign “tips” for property owners

Illegal dumping at businesses, apartment buildings and other private property is a serious problem. Some dumpers are individuals or businesses that dump in your dumpster to avoid paying for garbage service. Others haul junk for a small fee and then dump the loads illegally.

Illegal dumpers often use the same sites over and over. If you've been a victim of illegal dumping, take the following measures:

  • Clean up. Any site with an old tire or a bag of trash tends to act as a magnet for additional trash. Keep sites such as parking lots and areas around dumpsters neat and clean.

  • Post signs. Install signs to let potential dumpers know that unauthorized dumping is a violation of local and state ordinances and that they risk being identified and prosecuted.

  • Install lights. Most dumping occurs at night when dumpers are least likely to be seen. Installing motion sensor lighting around waste containers and in parking lots will eliminate the factor dumpers depend on the most to avoid detection-darkness.

  • Use vehicle barriers. In some cases, it may be feasible to place waste containers behind a barrier (such as a steel post) that prevents vehicles from driving up to the containers. The barrier is removed only for scheduled pickup by your waste hauler.

  • Lock up. Lock your dumpster lid or secure it behind an enclosure to deter small-scale dumpers looking for an accessible container.

Special-item collection events focus on one type of item that is hard to dispose of or recycle. Because options for disposing or recycling these items are limited, they typically end up dumped on forest land or along roadsides. Examples are tires, appliances, furniture and household hazardous waste. Make arrangements in advance of the special collection event for final reuse, recycling or disposition of the items.​​

Annual or semi-annual cleanup days can help rid communities of the type of trash which is illegally dumped along dirt roads, over cliffs, and in streambeds. Some public or private landfill operators may lower or cancel the cost of taking a load of garbage to the landfill during a cleanup event. This encourages citizens to properly dispose of materials while offering a sound alternative to illegal dumping. Most community cleanup days are in the Spring or Fall, when residents are doing heavy-duty cleaning, and when renters are most likely to be moving. Contact SOLV for information on how to plan a cleanup or for volunteer coordinator training.

    Sustaining Oregon's Legacy by Volunteering, originally an acronym for Stop Oregon Litter and Vandalism​

Similar to the Oregon Department of Transportation's "Adopt-A-Highway" program, an "adopt" program provides a structure to conduct cleanup of an illegal dump, a river or stream, neighborhood or street. Adopt groups can be organized by individuals, interest groups such as neighborhood associations or watershed councils, or local government entities such as public works or road departments.

Adopt programs can be more successful in generating a larger base of community participation. Primary functions of an organizing body or coordinator are to: (1) recruit and train volunteers; (2) arrange a mechanism for disposing of the trash (a drop box located at the site and bags for trash); (3) publicize the cleanup activity (post a sign at a dump site or along a neighborhood road).

Cleanups can be conducted as often as is necessary, or on a more set schedule such as twice a year or even quarterly.

You may also contact your local county or city road department, or your local chamber of commerce for ideas on establishing an "Adopt-A-Dump, River, Neighborhood or Street" program.

Enforcement programs

To effectively reduce illegal dumping, your jurisdiction will need a legal mechanism in place such as a local ordinance.

Your program will need to identify staff for investigating sites and violators. It also takes a judicial system willing to enforce the laws and levy meaningful and appropriate fines.

You must also inform the public about legal disposal options, why illegal dumping is a crime and the consequences if they're caught dumping. An effective public awareness program will deter violators; the threat will become the enforcement.