Written by Calvin Lakhan, Ph.D, Co-Investigator: “The Waste Wiki” – Faculty of Environment and Urban Change at York University

As I put together my latest paper “Household attitudes towards illegal dumping of durable goods in Ontario”, I am becoming increasingly aware that (mostly) nobody is going to read it. It’s long, overly technical and goes into a lengthy discussion about things like the theory of planned behavior and theory of reasoned action. Recognizing that it will have a limited audience as a conventional academic paper, here is my attempt to distill a 15+ page paper in 22 bullet points summarizing the most salient points from the study.

Note: For those that are particularly keen, send me an email (lakhanc@yorku.ca) and I can share the full study once finalized.

1)  In urban communities, the frequency of self-reported illegal dumping was approximately 24% lower relative to suburban communities and 44% lower relative to rural communities

2)  Multifamily residential buildings reported higher rates of illegal dumping relative to single- family dwellings

3)  64% of respondents admitted to illegally dumping durable waste at least once within the past year (51% urban, 48% suburban and 89% rural)

4)  91%  of  respondents  reported  seeing  neighbors  and  households  from  the  broader community illegally dispose of waste at least once in the past year

5)  88% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed, with the statement “I think illegal dumping is wrong”

6)  80% of urban respondents (who admitted to illegally dumping) agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “I feel guilty when I dump waste in places where I know it doesn’t belong,” in stark contrast to rural communities where only 24% of respondents indicated some measure of guilt for illegal dumping

7)  55% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “I think illegal dumping should be fined or face a penalty”

8)  44% of respondents indicated that they would avoid illegal dumping if faced with a financial penalty

9)  37% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “Illegal dumping is a problem in my community” (28% urban, 31% suburban and 55% rural)

10) 21% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “My municipality does enough to prevent illegal dumping”

11) 34% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “I know where to take my waste that is not collected as part of my city’s recycling or garbage service” (Note: Wording of survey question was changed to specify that the question was not referring to either the Blue Bin or Green Bin program)

12) Impeded access to approved collection points was the primary determinant of illegal dumping across all three municipal groups (Note: What constitutes infrastructural inadequacies differed between urban/suburban and rural communities)

13) Rural respondents characterized a lack of approved collection points as being the primary issue, with majority of those respondents indicating that they would not be willing to travel more than 15 minutes to dispose of waste at a depot/transfer station

14) Urban/suburban respondents  characterized  a lack  of  formal municipal  programs  for durable goods (e.g., furniture, mattresses, etc.) as being the main behavioral impediment, with lack of collection points following closely behind. Many respondents indicated that it is the municipality’s responsibility to collect and manage waste from households

15) Participants across all three municipal groups felt that bylaws barring the illegal dumping of waste were ineffectual due to a lack of enforcement

16) Lack of awareness regarding where to safely dispose of waste contributed to illegal dumping, with more than 70% of respondents indicating that they did not know where to properly dispose of one or more waste streams

17) Normative pressures were a significant predictor of willingness to illegally dump material, with 74% of respondents reporting that they would be deterred from illegal dumping if they were noticed by neighbors, loved ones or the broader community

18) Self-reported  willingness  to  illegally  dump  is  significantly  correlated  with  perceived environmental harm of a particular waste stream, with respondents indicating that they were more likely to illegally dump items that they felt were not “dangerous” or “bad for the environment” (e.g., household hazardous waste, oil, paint, etc.)

19) The types of items that are illegally dumped vary based on locality, with urban respondents more likely to dump construction/renovation waste, electronics and small appliances, and engage in “garbage switching” (putting waste in neighbors’ garbage/recycling carts)

20) Rural respondents were more likely to dispose of a broader range of materials, including large durable goods such as mattresses, furniture and appliances, with the differences in self-reported disposal between urban and rural communities being likely explained by program availability (the urban municipalities sampled offer a wider range of waste collection services) and opportunity (there are more opportunities to dump large items in rural communities without being noticed)

21) Where respondents illegally disposed of waste also is a function of locality, with urban respondents being most likely to dump waste in non-designated carts (Note: Most urban municipalities in Ontario use 360L opaque carts to collect recyclables, household waste and organics with a side loading vehicle

22) Respondents from rural communities were more likely to dump waste in areas that were characterized by low foot traffic and low visibility, including ravines, wooded spaces, culverts, etc.

Stay tuned for potential solutions to address illegal dumping……

About the Author

Calvin LAKHAN, Ph.D, is currently co-investigator of the “Waste Wiki” project at York University (with Dr. Mark Winfield), a research project devoted to advancing understanding of waste management research and policy in Canada. He holds a Ph.D from the University of Waterloo/Wilfrid Laurier University joint Geography program, and degrees in economics (BA) and environmental economics (MEs) from York University. His research interests and expertise center around evaluating the efficacy of municipal recycling initiatives and identifying determinants of consumer recycling behavior.