and household waste has become a huge environmental problem over the past few decades, especially in poorer countries. Many poor countries have lax environmental protection laws and corrupt law enforcement. Due to this, many larger companies dispose of toxic waste directly into waterways or waterbodies. If they are caught, they either pay off the officials, or pretend to clean up their act.
What is illegal dumping?
The definition of illegal dumping varies throughout the world, but the Australian government provides a very good explanation:
Illegal dumping is done in a number of ways. Some examples include¹:
- Throwing household waste or garden rubbish into nearby forests or parks.
- Dumping your construction waste in someone else’s bin.
- Leaving household goods or furniture on the side of the road with a free sign.
- Dumping contaminated factory waste directly into the environment without treatment.
Why does illegal dumping occur?
People dump their waste illegally for a number of reasons. They may be trying to avoid disposal fees, or may simply be too lazy to make the effort to dispose of their garbage properly. Factories or work teams can have significant waste disposal costs, so the incentive to dump illegally can be high – especially in countries with weak environmental policies which mean that they will likely get away with it. In some third world countries you can still see blatant evidence of the practice in the form of individuals throwing their trash in rivers, and companies releasing highly toxic waste directly into the environment².
What are the effects of illegal dumping on the surrounding environment?
Runoff – Illegal dumping can impede the natural runoff of water during heavy rain or storms. This can cause the water to build up in areas where it is not wanted – potentially causing flash flooding and damage to property and/or land. Dumped trash can also become caught up in the runoff, where if flows into waterbodies, and can cause the contamination of drinking water supplies, lakes, and rivers³.
Aesthetics – Illegally dumped garbage can be a horrible eyesore in an otherwise beautiful place. This can reduce tourism and therefore reduce community revenue, which in turn reduces the funds available to deal with the problem⁴.
Plants and wildlife – Illegal dumping can adversely affect many native species of plants and animals. If animals consume waste from illegal dump sites it can cause health complications and even death. The toxins from waste can leach into the surrounding environment, killing plants and destroying the food source of local animals⁵.
Marine – Illegal dumping near waterways can cause oceanic pollution. In rural or remote areas in poorer countries, rubbish disposal facilities are often completely absent. This leaves two ways of disposing of trash: dumping it into the environment or burning it. Unfortunately, the most common disposal method involves throwing the garbage directly into a river or stream, from which it eventually makes its way to the ocean. This causes huge problems, from the death of marine mammals such as seals and dolphins to the creation of huge garbage patches such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch⁶.
Atmosphere – Many household appliances and other litter contain harmful chemicals which can be extremely damaging when released. For example, refrigerators and freezers contain either tetrafluoroethane or chloro-fluoro-carbon, both of which destroy the ozone layer⁷.
Not only does illegal dumping destroy the environment and harm plants and animals, it also has a number of other negative effects on society. If garbage is dumped in an area accessible to the public – and especially children – such as a park, then people can be exposed to health and injury risks. The clean-up of illegally dumped garbage costs governments and tax-payers millions, if not billions of dollars per year. This money could be better used in the preservation and care of the environment, rather than in the clean-up of completely preventable and thoughtless dumping. If you care about the environment even a little, then you would never consider illegal dumping as a method of waste disposal. Rather, take the extra time and deliver your trash directly to a dump or tip, even if it costs a little more.