Illegal Dumping

Illegal dumping, also known as "midnight” dumping, is the term used to describe disposing of waste in unauthorized areas. It is an environmental crime. Depending on the circumstances, charges can range from misdemeanor to felony and the fines can be quite heavy.

Trends show illegal dumping is rising in North Carolina. Rising disposal costs and an increase in building are contributing factors. Illegal dumps are not just ugly, they also impact human health, damage the environment and can discourage economic development.

Frequently Asked Questions

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Unsecured property with lots of access points is a favorite with illegal dumpers. Remote, poorly lit roads, access and service roads and any area where waste containers are placed, but are unattended, are also vulnerable. Once established, illegal dumps tend to attract additional waste. When sites are not cleaned up promptly they attract additional illegal dumpers.

Access and terrain are not the only factors. Communities without illegal dumping ordinances see more of this activity, as do communities without conveniently placed solid waste drop-off centers. Other triggers include high landfill tipping fees and weak local enforcement programs.

A variety of people do so for a variety of reasons. Some offenders include construction, demolition and land clearing contractors, automobile repair operations, tire shops, scrap collectors, waste-hauling contractors, all sorts of commercial operators and area residents.

Here are some reasons why people dump illegally:

  • Save money
  • Few or no convenient disposal sites
  • Lax enforcement
  • Ignorance of severity and consequences of illegal dumping
  • Laziness

Human Health and the Environment

Human health risks center on illegal dumps’ ability to provide breeding places for insects, rodents, and other pests. Dumpsites with tires are prime breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Tires can hold large quantities of stagnant water. This water allows the mosquitoes – which might carry encephalitis, West Nile Virus or other dangerous diseases – to breed 100 times faster than normal.

Illegal dumps can contaminate surface and ground water. Depending on location, dumps can keep water from draining which may lead to flooding. Illegal dumps can also pose a fire risk, disrupt wildlife habitats, and present physical hazards to human health.

Abandoned refrigerators or freezers may appear attractive play spaces to children, who like to play inside of them. Children have become trapped and suffocated in improperly disposed of appliances.

Chemical hazards at illegal dumps can come from a number of sources. Some common sources are batteries, epoxies, waterproofing agents, asbestos and commercial cleaning compounds. Asbestos, for example, was used in more than 4,000 building products. Shingles, ceiling tile, insulation and vinyl floor covering are just a few. Unless asbestos is handled carefully, its fibers can float free and be inhaled. Lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis can result from prolonged exposure to these fibers.

Drywall, which is often made of gypsum, is another commonly dumped item. Under certain conditions, improperly disposed gypsum drywall can produce hydrogen sulfide gas that can explode in high concentrations. It also has an offensive odor. Decomposing wastes also generate methane and other gasses. Methane is explosive at certain levels.

Lead based paint is another contaminant found frequently at illegal dumpsites. Estimates show half of the housing in the United States contains some lead-based paint. Demolition or reconstruction waste from these estimated 64 million homes should be carefully disposed of to avoid risking lead contamination.

Exposure to lead or lead poisoning is a risk for children and adults. Lead poisoning is most commonly found in children due to their smaller size. High levels of lead in children have been shown to result in learning disabilities, behavioral problems and mental retardation.

Travel & Tourism

State visitors and vacationing or traveling residents claim North Carolina’s natural resources as their primary reason for choosing the state as a destination. North Carolina ranks seventh nationally for domestic travel, which brings 2.2 billion in revenue to the state. In 2000, close to 43 million visitors spent 12 billion dollars on tourism related activities, according to the North Carolina Department of Commerce. At present, tourism is the state’s second largest economic sector. Revenues will drop dramatically if the state’s natural resources are lost to illegal dumping.

Economic Development

North Carolina is one of the fastest growing states in the nation. Developers are often reluctant to invest heavily in areas with scattered dumpsites. Dumpsites often act as a magnet for more dumping and other criminal activities. These activities decrease property values and make the area less attractive to commercial and residential developers.

Community Pride

Residents like to take pride in their cities and towns, but illegal dumps make that very hard to do. Sites that are not cleaned up promptly often attract additional illegal dumpers. It is quite common for a “little” dump to turn into acres of trash in a matter of weeks.

People are more likely to dump on property where trash already exists. Property owners can also be affected when trying to sell property. No one wants to buy a dumpsite and few property owners want to pay to clean up a mess they did not make. Tracing long dumped material back to its owner can be very difficult if not impossible. Property owners should act quickly when their land has been dumped on.

Illegal dumping carries serious fines and can be a Class I felony crime. Read the law here.

If you see an illegal dumper in action, do not risk your personal safety by approaching them. Instead, contact the county or city solid waste office nearest you. You can also contact law enforcement officials. If you can do so without endangering yourself, please try to get the following information.

  • Specific location
  • Time of day
  • License plate number (if applicable)
  • Color, make, model and/or name of business on vehicle

If you see an illegal dump, please contact the county or city solid waste office nearest you. You can also contact law enforcement officials. If you can do so without endangering yourself, please try to get the following information.

  • Specific location of dumpsite
  • Directions to dumpsite
  • Approximate size of dumpsite
  • Type of material(s) in dumpsite
  • Name and phone number of property owner (if known)

Dispose of all wastes at a permitted disposal facility – it’s the law. Improper disposal can be considered a Class 1 felony crime. You must take your waste to the proper disposal facility. To learn where they are located, contact your local solid waste office.

Land Clearing Waste is generated solely from land clearing activities. It is made up of stumps, trees, limbs, brush, grass and other naturally occurring vegetative material. The best way to manage this waste is to reduce, reuse, recycle, compost, mulch, or dispose of it in a permitted land clearing and inert debris landfill.

Inert debris is made up of unpainted concrete, brick, concrete block, uncontaminated soil, rock, and gravel. Inert debris may be used as beneficial fill material so long as no excavation occurs. Beneficial fill improves land use potential when all pertinent laws, rules and regulations are followed.

Construction and demolition waste, also known as C&D, is solely generated from construction, remodeling, repair or demolition operations on buildings or other structures. Some examples include insulation, plywood, particle board, treated and painted wood, shingles, wire, sheetrock, and siding. To manage C&D waste properly, separate it into recyclable and non-recyclable materials whenever possible. Material that can’t be reused or recycled should be taken to an approved C&D landfill for disposal or to a municipal solid waste landfill although the latter option is more expensive. When in doubt, ask. Whatever you do with your waste, don’t bury, burn or dump it. All of these actions, including the disposal of waste in a body of water – are illegal.

If the material can be recycled - and new ways to recycle C&D waste are always being discovered – take it the facility nearest you. Depending on the material and the vendor, you may receive payment or even a tax write-off!

Some contractors swap their C&D waste for other materials they need. To register your inventory, or to see what's available from other, check the North Carolina Waste Trader.