Illegal dumping, which is when people throw waste such as couches, tires, or hazardous materials in ditches or other unauthorized locations, is an ongoing problem. It often happens when people rent dumpsters too.
As contractors and homeowners can attest when they bring a dumpster onsite, people throw their trash in there without permission. When it’s something like a mattress or TV that’s not allowed in a dumpster, the person renting it has to then get rid of the item at his or her expense.
Social media posts have highlighted illegal dumping around town, such as a recent dump of commercial tires. Scott County environmental staff have been responding to cases of illegally dumped tires and other items, in both rural areas and within Shakopee. To find out how big of a problem this is, I talked with Kate Sedlacek, environmental services manager for Scott County.
“We have seen an increase in illegal dumps,” she said. “Last spring, when we started getting the first cases of COVID-19 and the counties and state were preparing for that, it was a tough time. People started their spring cleaning, and the cities and counties were getting ready for their single day cleanups and drop offs, but then we couldn’t do that. Those events were either postponed or canceled, and drop off locations like household hazardous waste facilities had to close for several weeks as they came up with safety plans for the pandemic.”
Donation centers such as Goodwill also closed, which eliminated popular places for people to give away used items. Sedlacek said the period when those centers and waste material locations were closed was the peak time for illegal dumping.
“Since those disposal outlets reopened in early summer, that addressed a high peak of dumping,” she said. “But even though these outlets are back online, we still have seen an increase and certainly more than we would like. Some of it is business waste, and some of it is residential.”
To raise awareness, Scott County has shared information about the issue and how to properly dispose of items, including hazardous waste, in its newsletter, website, and on social media. This has resulted in more people calling Scout County to report incidents. Illegal dumping also includes placing unwanted items next to trash or donation bins.
“A lot of people think, ‘Well, there’s a dumpster right here, so what’s the harm in putting something in there?’ Or else, ‘There’s a bin in this parking lot, so I’m just going to put my thing that I want to get rid of next to it,’” she said. “The message we want to get out is that this is a burden to the property owner because they have to pay to dispose of that. The people who they’re hurting are the property owners or if they dump on city or county property, that is impacting tax dollars for cleanup. And we don’t have a lot of dollars to pay for other people’s disposal.”
Besides the expense and eyesore, illegal dumping can affect the environment. “It might contaminate the soil and water if it’s not addressed soon enough,” Sedlacek noted. “Any possible contaminant could leak over time. There’s metal in TVs and other things that we need to be cautious of and get it cleaned up before there’s any contamination.”
A secondary problem is that an illegal dump tends to attract others, causing the pile to grow and attract other criminal activities, she said. Dumping along the side of a road can also cause accidents.
“We had a dump truck’s worth of tires dumped in a ditch at one time,” Sedlacek said. “A couple were left partially on the road. Night is the most opportune time to dump, and someone who doesn’t see a tire on the road might hit it.”
Scott County is working with police departments and the county attorney to curb the problem and bring charges against those who illegally dump. The crime is a misdemeanor, with courts deciding the penalty.
Sedlacek said Scott County is making it easy for people to dispose of items that can’t be thrown in the trash or placed curbside. One offering is the Waste Navigator website (https://gis.co.scott.mn.us/wastenav/) that allows people to enter the item they want to get rid of, then the site provides drop off locations. Disposal fees can be a few bucks per tire for residents or $25 for a mattress or small TV.
“The biggest reason people illegally dump is because they don’t feel there is a convenient way to dispose of items, which means a convenient location to drop off materials, or it’s too expensive,” Sedlacek said. “We work hard to make it easy.”