Illegal dumps choke bay area basins and open spaces

Santa Cruz — Bean Creek Road winds through the Redwoods of the Santa Cruz Mountains, surrounded by a steep hillside on one shoulder and a canyon on the other. The discreet dirt pull-off overlooks the top of the emerald tree. However, if you look down, you will get a very glittering sight. Discarded furniture, mattresses, rusted car parts, and trash are rolling into the stream below.

This embarrassing turmoil is one of thousands of illegal dumping grounds that pollute the California community.

Items illegally dumped in Auckland.  (Jane Tyska / Germany Newsgroup)
Items illegally dumped in Auckland. (Jane Tyska / Germany Newsgroup)

Now, more detailed analysis shows that illegal dumping is becoming more serious in the Monterey Bay area during a pandemic. As trash piles build up on street corners and backstreets in the countryside, communities are working on ways to strengthen enforcement and design preventive programs. The state-wide trend towards privatization of waste management exacerbates the problem.

Returning to Bean Creek Road, neighbors express frustration when they find pickup trucks and even U-holes on-site. No one wants their community to be used as a dump.

“It’s not just Santa Cruz County. We’re not at all special,” said Bo Hawksford, county zeroway store analyst. “It’s happening more nationwide, if not the world.”

According to Hawksford, there are more than 50 sites around the unincorporated area of ​​Santa Cruz County that are repeatedly littered with waste such as Bean Creek. He admits that there is more likely that the county does not know, as the county relies on complaints from the community to find them.

Ted Terrasas, Sustainability Manager, Monterey’s Community Development Division, said the neighboring Monterey County bordered the National Marine Reserve and increased the number of illegal garbage dumps during a pandemic. In 2020, due to the uncertain spread of COVID-19, cleaning was stopped and unnecessary garbage piled up and proliferated.

This problem is seen in the growing pile of discarded tires and construction waste that pollutes the Pajaro River from Gilroy to Watsonville. And in a pile of broken furniture and rotting mattresses behind Fort Ord’s abandoned barracks.

“For environmental hygiene reasons, it’s not only important to clean the garbage dump, but it’s also important that the garbage dump is ignored and encourages more garbage dumps,” Terrasus said. Mr. says.

According to the Monterey County Solid Waste Department, the number of cleanups per year is increasing. Over the past two years, more than 700 debris removal requests have been filed based on complaints filed with Monterey County Public Works. This is almost equivalent to a daily complaint. The garbage reduction team works seven days a week to remove 150-200 tonnes of garbage each year.

Why this is a problem

The unfortunate sight of Bean Creek is not uncommon, Hawksford said. Gorges and canyons above streams are common garbage dumps, as are road drawers in rural areas with few surveillance and passersby.

Canyons are also the most difficult and costly to clean and often require cranes and a large crew due to the difficult terrain. A single cleanup of a site can cost more than $ 100,000, Hawksford said.

These dumping sites are not just annoying. Many of the dumped items leach toxic chemicals such as PFAS, pesticides and phthalates. These chemicals can pass through storm drains and waterways, through the soil, and through the California basins to the aquifers.

“All of these canyons connect to our coastal waters,” explained Teresatary, a coastal specialist at California Seagrant Extensions. “Accumulation of garbage and debris [in them] And when it finally rains, it just flashes. “

Sunlight breaks down plastic into small pieces that wildlife can eat. Bite-sized debris can be easily carried away by rain or wind. Mattresses and sofas deteriorate into pieces of cloth and padding that can entangle plants and animals, choke sea turtles, and catch songbirds. Flame retardants in mattresses penetrate soil and water as well as toxins from discarded tires. Sunlight only exacerbates the problem by breaking down and releasing more chemicals. For example, dyed wood may contain PFAS. It is a long-term chemical that researchers have associated with many human and animal health problems. Ultimately, all of these pollutants are at risk of reaching the Pacific Ocean or the aquifers that supply drinking water.


This problem is especially difficult to deal with, as people throw trash for a variety of reasons.

This problem is exacerbated by the poverty and inequality that worsened during the pandemic. In low-income areas where high housing costs are overcrowded, garbage containers often exceed capacity and fill up.

High turnover rates for residents in crowded living environments also contribute to this problem, according to Amory Brandt, a project manager in San Jose, who studied illegal dumping as an indicator of social turmoil. When people have to move quickly, they may misplace mattresses and furniture on streets, alleys and lawns. Non-English-speaking residents may be left without resources to show how to dispose of their garbage.

“I talk to my neighbors about junk pick-up programs and picking up bulky items, but almost every neighbor who talks about it doesn’t know about it,” Brandt said. “I was very surprised because I felt like I had done a lot of work to promote the program.”

But individuals aren’t the only ones to rely on dumping to throw away unnecessary furniture and belongings. Karen Tandler, a deputy district attorney for Los Angeles County, who works for the Environmental Crime Division, said it’s not uncommon for contractors to back up trucks into canyons and dump waste from the scene.

The enforcement of the illegal dumping law is difficult, said Jim Gordon, an inspector of the environmental crime unit at the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office. Gordon has been working to end illegal dumping for over 36 years. Those involved in the act are usually charged between $ 250 and $ 1,000, but repeat offenders may pay more. Instead of being charged with misdemeanor charges, as is happening in neighboring Oregon and Nevada, dumping in California now justifies citations only. According to Gordon, this actually increases the likelihood that violators will choose fines over compliance.

“Some people are taking shortcuts because of laziness and greed,” Doug Kobold, managing director of the California Product Stewardship Council, said at a state-wide illegal dumping conference in April. With more than 30 years of experience in the fight against illegal dumping, he said the lack of convenience and high disposal costs discouraged people from bringing waste to the right facilities.

In rural areas, access to affordable disposal options can be even more difficult. There are 12 garbage dumps and garbage dumps in Monterey and Santa Cruz County, but communities far from the town need to drive for up to an hour to dispose of old mattresses, broken appliances, and other garbage. there is.

What is going on

While the state-wide community is tackling illegal dumping in a myriad of ways, the decentralized nature of waste management makes the solution more difficult.

Recognizing the crisis, the Legislature is considering more than 75 bills related to solid waste management. This is an unprecedented number. These bills aim to address issues from a variety of angles, including higher fines for offenders, increased surveillance, and increased accountability for manufacturer dispositions.

The illegal dumping of a local road construction contractor into a stream has spurred Proposal to Contracosta County lawmaker Bauerkahan to propose a bill AB2374 to increase criminal fines and revoke business licenses from criminals. rice field.

In Santa Cruz and Monterey counties, waste management agencies have established programs designed to make it easier to dispose of particularly toxic and bulky items. Their dumps now receive used mattresses and electronics for free, and all households can request free bulky item pickup up to four times a year.

Despite the urgent need to curb illegal dumping, solving the problem is a frustrating paradox. Waste collection fees and waste collection fees are used to pay for cleanups and collection programs, but if they are too high, people may resort to illegal methods.

“How much can I raise to cover these costs before someone goes to the side of the road and throws them away? It must be enough to recover the costs,” Hawksford said. increase.

According to Hawksford, Santa Cruz County needs to double its current annual budget from about $ 500,000 to $ 1 million to effectively address all illegal dumping sites.

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