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Illegal Dumping Control

Minimum Measure: Illicit Discharge Detection and Elimination

Subcategory: Trash and Illegal Dumping

Photo of a No Dumping sign discourages illegal dumping by threatening arrest Description

Illegal dumping is the disposal of waste in an unpermitted area, such as a back area of a yard, along stream bank, or at some other off-road area. Pouring liquid wastes or disposing of trash down storm drains can also qualify as illegal dumping. It is often called "open dumping," "fly dumping," and "midnight dumping" because materials are often dumped in open areas from vehicles along roadsides late at night. Primarily nonhazardous materials, illegally dumped wastes are dumped to avoid paying disposal fees or expending the time and effort required for proper disposal (USEPA Region 5, 1998).


Illegal dumps and waste dumped illegally down storm drains can impair water quality. Runoff from dumpsites contain chemicals that can contaminate wells and surface water used as sources of drinking water. Substances disposed of directly into storm drains can also lead to water quality impairment. In systems that flow directly to waterbodies, illegally disposed-of substances are introduced untreated to the natural environment. For example, the state of Oklahoma has 2,446 illegal dumps, which will cost an estimated $3,922,000 to clean up. As part of its pollution prevention efforts, the Oklahoma State University's Cooperative Extension Service has developed a series of posters and other displays to promote awareness of the problems that result from illegal dumping.


Municipalities and organizations all over the United States have implemented programs to stop the illegal dumping of trash and used materials. Public education is the most important method of implementing such programs. To ensure their effectiveness, some programs allow for citizen reporting of illegal dumpers, who can then be fined, sentenced to jail, or be required to perform community service. Some clues can help citizens identify illegal dumpers (Fairfax County, 2000):

  • Illegal dumping often occurs late at night and before dawn.
  • There is often no company name on the construction vehicles or equipment.
  • The construction activity occurs on a site with no company advertising sign.
  • There is no construction entrance adjacent to the roadway (an area of large stone and gravel placed to keep mud off streets).

In 1993, the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG) initiated a public outreach program called Our Water - Take It Personally!. The campaign includes stormwater stenciling that reads "Don't Dump. Protect Our Water." In 1993, NCTCOG won the Keep Texas Beautiful President's Award for its efforts to address illegal dumping. Tarrant County, Texas, has initiated an aggressive public reporting program to stop illegal dumping. Work with public and private entities to develop a manual, Stormwater Quality Best Management Practices for Industrial Activities, North Central Texas, has also been successful (NCTCOG, 2000a, 2000b).

The Dallas County Illegal Dumping Hotline (1-888-335-DUMP) is a 24-hour hotline for citizens to report illegal dumping in Collin, Dallas, Denton, Ellis, Erath, Hood, Hunt, Johnson, Kaufman, Navarro, Palo Pinto, Parker, Rockwell, Somervell, Tarrant, and Wise counties. Citizens are asked to leave as much information as possible, city and county of the incident, specific street location, license plate number and description of vehicle, personal description of violator, type of waste dumped, caller's name and telephone number, date of violation. As an incentive to report illegal dumping, a $50 reward is given to reporting individuals if their information leads to an arrest (the City Web, 1998). Earthwater Stencils, Inc., supports stormwater pollution prevention by providing materials such as posters, stencils, and brochures to community-based storm drain stenciling and related programs in local watersheds. The (EarthWater-Stencils Exit EPA Site) website offers information on how and where to stencil and how to obtain stenciling materials.

Clean Ocean Action, a nonprofit organization that focuses on the New Jersey/New York coast, has designated 2 weeks of the year as "Storm Drain Stencil Week." They offer free storm drain stenciling kits to teachers and also have available a variety of lesson plans and activities about storm drains.


Illegal dumping regulations must be enforced. In Chicago, Illinois, penalties for dumping without a permit can include fines up to $2,000, 6 months in jail, and up to 200 hours of community service. Violators are liable for up to three times the cost of cleaning up a site, and city contracts can be terminated. Vehicles are subject to seizure and impoundment, with the owner of record liable for a $500 fine in addition to towing and storage fees. Finally, owners or occupants of any unimproved parcel of real estate must remove any abandoned or derelict motor vehicle, garbage, debris, refuse, litter, or miscellaneous waste. Violations can result in fines of $200 to $1,000 per day. These regulations are promulgated under Ordinances 7-28-440 and 7-28-450, Municipal Code, City of Chicago (USEPA Region 5, 1998). Hawaii has instituted a similar program. In 1998, a law was enacted imposing fines and jail time on individuals or groups that operate or use illegal dumps. Open dumps throughout the state have been found to lead to groundwater and surface water pollution, as well as odor problems and fires of hazardous materials. The sites are often at least 5 acres and are not visible from public roads because they are on private property or behind closed gates (HDOH, 1998).

Local police departments or other public entities can play a major role in catching illegal dumpers. The Central Oklahoma Trash Cop Program, which consists of environmental officers hired to catch and prosecute litterers and illegal dumpers in four counties, was begun with $160,000 obtained through fundraising efforts by a local community group, Oklahoma City Beautiful. The program will be sustained by fines collected from offenders (USEPA Region 5, 1998).

Reliance on public reporting is an important factor in the effectiveness of anti-illegal dumping programs. Municipalities can develop citizen reporting hotlines or website forms. Program administrators must ensure that these reports are followed up and that the reporter receives a notice of the results. Otherwise, the incentive for reporting could be lost.

In some cases, citizens have been rewarded for helping clean up illegal dumpsites. PhilaPride, a nonprofit group in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, promotes neighborhood participation in cleanup and enforcement activities. The program is funded primarily by corporations that have had dumping problems on their properties (USEPA Region 5, 1998). A community group in Detroit, Michigan, uses a county grant to pay residents to bring illegally dumped tires to drop-off locations. A local waste hauler donates services to transport the tires to a tire shredder, which shreds them at no charge. A local bank donates money to cover disposal costs (USEPA Region 5, 1998).

Design Considerations

Illegal dumping programs might also include monitoring of roads that have often been used for trash disposal. Other methods are as simple as public education, such as storm drain stenciling (See Storm Drain Marking fact sheet). Both programs depend on citizen reporting of illegal dumpers.

Storm drain stenciling is an effective method of raising public awareness of the effects of stormwater runoff on water quality. Stenciling neighborhood storm drains reminds car owners not to dump their motor oil down the drain. It helps all neighbors realize that throwing their trash down the storm drain could have negative effects on their local river. Storm drain stenciling programs can be started by any local group, such as the Boy Scouts, a school class, or a neighborhood association. It is an activity that is quick, easy, and fun.


Determining which storm drains to stencil is a vital step. Groups must ensure they have the proper authority's permission to paint storm drains. In terms of reporting illegal dumpers, citizens must be assured that their efforts to contact reporting agencies will result in action by authorities. The city of Jacksonville, Florida, has a citizen complaint form Exit EPA Site on its web page. The citizen can then provide specific information to the City about the incident. City staff have established a goal of contacting complaint submitters within 24 hours (City of Jacksonville, 2000).


Municipalities should set goals for reducing the number of illegal dumping acts. The city of Sacramento, California, has set a goal of stenciling 45,000 storm drains throughout the city.

Citizen participation and reporting are important steps in maintaining an anti-illegal dumping program. Furthermore, proper enforcement must be implemented to discourage others from performing these illegal acts.

Cost Considerations

Costs for implementing illegal dumping programs vary. Storm drain stenciling by volunteers is inexpensive because there are only small costs for the stencils and paints. Cash incentives, like the $50 reward offered in Dallas County, are likely to be minimal costs, because the rewards would not be granted until after a conviction. Actual monitoring by local police or another authority can be more expensive and would require funding in the locality's budget.


Bryant, S.D., V.S. Shastri Annambhotla, and K.A. Carper. 1999. Development of a Dynamic Urban Stormwater and Watershed Management System to Meet the Challenges of the 21st Century. In Proceedings of 1999 American Water Works Association Water Resources Conference.

City of Indianapolis and Marion County. No date. Peer City Review--Denver, Colorado. City of Indianapolis and Marion County, Indiana. Accessed September 14, 2005.

City of Jacksonville. 2000. Water Quality. [ Exit EPA Site]. Accessed November 28, 2012.

City of Raleigh. 1998. Neuse River Brochure. City of Raleigh Public Affairs, Raleigh, NC. [ Exit EPA Site]. Accessed September 14, 2005.

The City Web. 1998. HELP Stop Illegal Dumping in Dallas County! Accessed September 14, 2005.

Clean Ocean Action. 2000. Storm Drain Stencil Week. [ Exit EPA Site]. Accessed September 14, 2005.

County of San Diego. No date. Facility Inspection and Enforcement Program. County of San Diego, San Diego, CA.

Fairfax County. 2000. Reporting Land Development Related Environmental Concerns. Fairfax County, VA. [ Exit EPA Site]. Accessed September 14, 2005.

Hawaii Department of Health (HDOH). 1998. New Law Targets Illegal Dumps, Dumping. Hawaii Department of Health, Honolulu, HI.

Johnson, B., and D. Tuomari. No date. Did You Know...The Impact of On-Site Sewage Systems and Illicit Discharges on the Rouge River. Camp Dresser & McKee and Wayne County Department of Environment, Wayne, Michigan.

North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG). 2000a. Stormwater Management in North Central Texas. North Central Texas Council of Governments, Arlington, TX. [ Exit EPA Site]. Accessed September 14, 2005.

North Central Texas Council of Governments. 2000b. Overview of the Regional Stormwater Management Strategy for the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. North Central Texas Council of Governments, Arlington, Texas. [ Exit EPA Site]. Accessed September 14, 2005.

Oklahoma State University's Cooperative Extension Service (CES). 2000. Displays Available.

Wayne County. 2000. The Rouge River Project. Wayne County, MI. [ Exit EPA Site]. Accessed September 14, 2005.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA). 2000. Stormwater Phase II Final Rule. Illicit Discharge Detection and Elimination Minimum Control Measure. EPA 833-F-00-007. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Water, Washington, D.C.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 5 (USEPA Region 5). 1998. Illegal Dumping Prevention Guidebook. EPA-B-97-001. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 5, Chicago, IL.


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Last updated on November 28, 2012