California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) 

Illegal Dumping Resources  Toolbox

Prevention

Illegal dumping of materials such as large appliances, furniture, waste tires, computers, and household refuse is a problem in many California communities. Based on the experiences of many of those communities, prevention of illegal dumping before it happens in the first place and minimizing its reoccurrence if it does is the best strategy to combat illegal dumping.

By making legal disposal of materials convenient and illegal disposal inconvenient, the local costs of preventing illegal disposal are reduced. This page describes a variety of options for the prevention of illegal dumping.

Solid Waste Codes, Ordinances and Permits

Solid waste codes, ordinances, and permits are all effective tools in preventing illegal dumping. They can require permitting of waste management activities, establish mandatory refuse collection programs, set fines for illegal disposal offenses, require fencing of vacant properties, and provide administrative abatement, settlement, and citation authority to local government. Many of these are outlined in more detail in the abatement section.

The US Environmental Protection Agency identifies core elements of an effective ordinance as part of a comprehensive prevention program in its Illegal Dumping Prevention Guidebook.

Local Illegal Dumping Ordinances

Many local governments have supplemented the California Penal Code (Section 374 et seq.) on illegal dumping with local ordinances. Butte County’s Illegal Dumping Ordinance set the stage for a 78 percent reduction in the number of illegal dumping sites in the county in 2006. Some interesting aspects of its ordinance are:

  • Expands the definition of illegal dumping: Butte County’s ordinance has a “Cradle to Grave” determination for solid waste. It sends a stern message: “It’s your trash and you’re responsible to see that it is disposed of legally.”
  • Provides administrative abatement, settlement and citation authority to program staff: Butte County’s ordinance characterizes illegal dumping as a misdemeanor offense, and established an administrative order/hearing process to minimize the impact on the courts. It established fines ranging from $100-$300.

Mandatory Refuse Collection Ordinances

Most jurisdictions have local ordinances that require property owners or occupants to subscribe to a routine refuse collection. The absence of mandatory refuse collection ordinances makes the burial of wastes on a property or disposal of waste along the highway an attractive option to the individual who doesn’t want to pay transportation or disposal costs for their waste. Examples of these ordinances include:

Existing Codes and Permits

Existing codes and required permits can be adapted to result in sites being maintained in a clean condition and/or waste materials being properly disposed.

  • Zoning Codes: Define the type, amount and visibility of materials that can be stored on private property.
  • Land Use Permits: Require a certain number of waste containers on a property and that a property is maintained in a clean condition.
  • Solid Waste Facility Permit: May incorporate requirements for the permit holder to routinely remove all illegally dumped materials on specified routes to the solid waste facility or add lighting to poorly lit or remote areas that experience midnight dumping.
  • Health and Sanitation Codes: Although State law mandates that vehicles transporting waste to landfills and transfer stations be effectively covered (Vehicle Code Sections 23114-23115), jurisdictions may add a provision (Lake County Code Chapter 9, Article 1, Section 9-2.3) to their local code to charge a non-tarping fee in addition to the regular tipping fee for inadequately covered loads. Vehicles arriving at the Marina Landfill in Monterey County that are not properly secured are subject to a surcharge of double the disposal fee.

Contracts and Licenses

Solid waste collection is the responsibility of local government and may be provided by specific operating programs within government agencies, private collectors, special solid waste districts, special waste collectors, or a combination of the authorities.

Franchise Waste Hauler Agreements

A franchise agreement is commonly utilized when a local government opts to arrange for solid waste management services rather than providing them directly. Under a franchise waste collection agreement a jurisdiction contracts with waste haulers to provide waste collection services within that jurisdiction. A franchise agreement can be either exclusive to one company or non-exclusive allowing several companies to provide services within that jurisdiction and may include residential and/or commercial service. Under these agreements, waste haulers abide by specific service standards, rate control measures, and reporting requirements. A franchise agreement works in combination with mandatory collection ordinance to reduce illegal dumping and assist the jurisdiction in meeting the State 50 percent diversion mandate by increasing convenient collection, recycling; and legal disposal; requiring better reporting; and provided funding for additional recycling and educational programs. A franchise agreement may include special features, such as annual clean-up events and bulky item pick-up with the standard service.

Additionally, franchise agreements may include provisions that require the hauler to pick up materials illegally dumped along their geographically defined service routes (Example: El Dorado County).

Unregulated Refuse Service Providers

Unregulated refuse service providers, sometimes referred to as “mom-and-pops,” operate outside of exclusive franchise agreements and provide household clean-up services on an as-requested basis. They usually collect a fee from the individual requesting the service; clean-up materials from the house, garage, or yard; physically remove the waste from a property; and place it in their own vehicles for transport and recycling or legal disposal. Refuse service providers also may include installers, landscapers, and other businesses that may transport materials incidental to their primary business.Some of them sometimes increase their profit margin by illegally dumping the waste along a road or on a vacant lot.

Some counties and cities require a special business license or registration for these providers and provide a convenient listing with phone numbers. The Hawthorne Municipal Code has provisions for exemption from necessity of refuse service. Others, like San Luis Obispo County, exempt these businesses, including professional gardeners, clean-up people, etc. from some permit requirements.

Unregulated refuse service provider enforcement programs work in tandem with the evidence of ownership rules to provide relief to customers and other property owners who are innocent victims of illegal dumping. Some jurisdictions minimize this practice by enforcing the exclusivity clause of their franchise agreement.

Waste Tire Hauler

State law regulates the waste tire handling and hauling industry. This program can be funded by CalRecycle and enforced by local staff, or CalRecycle staff can enforce the regulations if the local jurisdictions so choose.

Alternative Waste Collection and Recycling Programs

Communities have responded with various types of collection activities and specialized programs for some items that are illegally dumped. Establishing a collection infrastructure that is free, easy, and convenient helps residents to do the right thing.

Free Residential Pickup Days/Vouchers

Many municipalities will provide a limited number of additional residential refuse pickups on an annual basis or an annual pickup service to specific geographic areas at no additional charge to the resident. Local jurisdictions may also provide vouchers for free disposal to private property owners who are the victims of an illegal dumping action.

Multi-Family Unit Bulky Waste Collection Program

Some jurisdictions, such as City of Los Angeles, have instituted a program that provides on-call pickup of bulky materials for owners of multiple family residential dwellings. The property owner pays an additional monthly fee for this service and the result is fewer bulky wastes that are left at a curb by the departing tenants.

Electronic Waste Collection

E-waste is a popular, informal name for electronic products nearing the end of their "useful life." Many types of electronic products used in the workplace and homes contain hazardous substances like lead and mercury and may not be discarded in the regular trash. This “disposal ban” can lead to instances of illegal disposal if appropriate low-cost recycling opportunities are not available or well understood. California enacted landmark legislation to develop a statewide e-waste recovery infrastructure and in 2005 began collecting a fee at the point of sale for certain products, specifically video display devices such as televisions and computer monitors. Qualified e-waste collectors and recyclers may be reimbursed from the fund established from the recycling fees for their costs of managing covered electronic wastes. A CalRecycle directory includes a database searchable by county that can be can be advertised by local governments to facilitate recycling and proper disposal.

Additional consumer information is available at eRecycle.org to assist in explaining the fee and other aspects of the program. Local governments and community partners can also host e-waste collection events to help prevent illegal disposal by giving residents a convenient means of managing unwanted electronics. It is important that e-waste recovery activities be conducted only by authorized handlers who follow documentation and material management standards applicable to this regulated waste stream.

Used Tires

California has an estimated 250,000 waste tires that have been illegally dumped or stockpiled. These stockpiles pose a potential threat to public health, safety, and the environment. CalRecycle is charged with the task of implementing tire disposal regulations and reducing the threat waste tires pose to public health and safety and the environment. CalRecycle provides a searchable list of facilities that are permitted to accept waste tires.

Green Waste Collection

Some jurisdictions provide separate containers for residential green waste, and some are providing collection sites for green wastes from landscape gardening businesses. Piles of green waste that are illegally dumped on properties will eventually decompose, but they can quickly become an identified location for dumping of other wastes.

Used Lubricating Oil and Filter Collection

Used motor oil and filters are also banned from the trash in California. CalRecycle’s Used Oil Recycling Program established a statewide network of more than 2,500 auto parts stores and other facilities that will pay the public to recycle used oil and filters. Many communities partner with the local auto parts stores to host special collection events. However, since used oil is not banned from the trash in other states and countries, people are often confused about the law and illegally dump the oil and filters. Monterey County included filter collection events as part of a larger illegal dumping awareness campaign. A variety of prevention and outreach materials are available on CalRecycle’s website for use by local governments in promoting the proper disposal of used oil and filters and preventing illegal disposal. CalRecycle also provides a searchable database that locates certified used oil recycling centers by city, county, or ZIP code.

Household Hazardous Waste Collection

Household hazardous waste includes many common products used in our daily lives which contain potentially hazardous ingredients like lead and mercury and may not be discarded in the regular trash. This disposal ban can lead to instances of illegal disposal if appropriate low-cost recycling opportunities are not available or well understood. Publicizing convenient collection locations can be effective in minimizing illegal dumping of this waste.

Retail Take-It-Back programs take back from the consumer wastes barred from landfills, such as cell phones, batteries, and fluorescent lamps, for recycling, reuse, or proper disposal. Take back programs can be run by government or private industry. The California Take-It-Back Partnership is a collaboration between government and business to provide convenient locations for consumers to dispose of everyday products. Visit Earth 911 to learn where to drop off banned items. More information is available for retailers interested in becoming a Take-It-Back partner.

Minimizing Recurrence and Creating Awareness

Illegal dumping behavior is also impacted by what’s going on in the neighborhood, ease of access to areas, and time of day. Local governments can take measures to impact those factors and reduce the ability to conveniently dispose of trash illegally. It’s also important to inform people about the penalties, as well as create the impression that non-compliance will be detected and violators will be caught.

Free Collection or Amnesty Days

Local jurisdictions often provide property owners with a limited number of annual free collection days or pick-up appointments with a minimal fee where all solid wastes are accepted. This service is also often included as part of a solid waste collection franchise agreement.

Public amnesty events for specific materials, such as up to 20 waste tires, allow citizens to bring waste tires to convenient locations for proper management--up to twice per month per location--or provide a coupon that allows citizens to bring in waste tires on specified days. Tire amnesty events or round-ups can be funded with state grants, and are not authorized end-use facilities for registered used and waste tire haulers and other tire-related businesses.

Signs

Residents are sometimes unaware that dumping is a crime and punishable by fines or prosecution. Use of “No Dumping” signs can be effective in preventing dumping and creating awareness of ordinances. Signs can specify fines and penalties or indicate that the area is under surveillance. The City of Sacramento used door-hanger signs to inform residents of their illegal dumping program and how to report an incident. Signage can also be included on county or hauler vehicles.

Vehicle-Related Programs

Solid Waste Vehicle Inspection or Load Covering Programs: Some local programs work with the CHP to increase enforcement of this State law. Other jurisdictions enforce the law by inspecting the vehicles (Sacramento County Code Title 6, Chapter 6.2, Section 6.20.280) when they arrive at a solid waste disposal facility. Offenders may be subject to a surcharge or fee if they arrive at a disposal facility without a tarp covering the load.

Fencing and Barriers

Barriers or fencing are installed to prohibit vehicle entry and/or make dumping more difficult. Local ordinances (Contra Costa County Code, Title 7, Chapter 720-4.802) also include authority for the illegal dumping program staff to install the fencing or barriers on private property and recover the costs through a tax lien. State grants can also cover the costs for security measures such as fences, barriers, and warning signs.

Lighting

Lighting can be an effective preventive measure in poorly lit or remote areas that experience midnight dumping. Lighting increases the visibility of the crime and the chances of the offenders being caught. Lighting may be required as part of the land use permit, may be required as part of an administrative settlement, or may be initiated by the property owner as a clean-up cost saving measure.

Landscaping and Beautification

Sites need to be maintained so that they do not attract illegal dumping. These efforts can range from simply cutting grass and pulling weeds to planting trees along the boundaries. Whether initiated by the private property owner, local government, or community organizations, vacant lots that are maintained in an attractive manner send a message that illegal dumping is not an acceptable practice in that neighborhood.

Surveillance Cameras

When word gets out in the community about cameras mounted near illegal dumping hot spots, they can be an illegal dumping deterrent and can aid in enforcement. In Sonoma County, to protect privacy and minimize the perception of government as “Big Brother,” cameras are trained on the dumping area and do not photograph passing cars or pedestrians. The county also sent letters to residents within a quarter-mile area advising them of the program. More information is provided in the Enforcement section of this Toolbox.

Reward Programs

Reward programs can effectively reduce illegal dumping if publicized in areas known for chronic illegal dumping. Since the launch of a Sacramento County program, more than a dozen residents have received a $250 reward for providing information that led to citation of people for illegal dumping. Complaints about illegally dumped piles in the community have drastically reduced.

Last updated: December 9, 2014
Illegal Dumping Resources Toolbox: http://www.calrecycle.ca.gov/IllegalDump/
Ken Stuart: Ken.Stuart@calrecycle.ca.gov (916) 341-6357