Tracking illegal dumping

GPS trackers have been introduced in NSW to monitor illegal waste transportation, but just how useful are they at tackling the costly problem?

The scourge of illegal dumping continues to pose challenges for councils Australia-wide, with the various environmental protection authorities taking steps to reduce the problem.

The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) NSW estimates one in 10 local government areas spend $500,000 or more on education, enforcement, clean-up and other illegal dumping activities each year. This is because councils are the main authorities for managing waste in their areas, and as such prevent illegal dumping through community engagement and education.

Illegal dumping involves the disposal of any waste to land or water that is larger than litter. It also includes illegal landfilling, where waste (often from construction and demolition) is used as “fill” without approval.

The NSW Government has committed to reducing illegal dumping by 30 per cent by 2020, according to its Consultation Draft: NSW Illegal Dumping Strategy 2017-20. This will be achieved through a multipronged approach, including public education, developing targeted strategies with stakeholders, regulation and enforcement (investigations, tracking) and prevention, infrastructure (community recycling centres) and clean-up programs. In addition, the State Government has committed $65 million to combat illegal dumping as part of its Waste Less, Recycle More initiative.

Those responsible for illegal dumping include waste generators, transporters and landowners.

In NSW, Section 143 of the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997, requires waste to be transported to a place that can lawfully accept it. This means that landowners and generators can be held liable if a transporter is found to be guilty of illegal dumping, after they have contracted a service to an external party.

The NSW Government introduced harsher illegal dumping laws in 2014, which granted the EPA with the power to install trackers onto vehicles to monitor whether vehicles were visiting illegal dumping hotspots, as well as the ability to seize vehicles used in dumping offences. In March, the EPA revealed the trackers were fitted for a 12-month period, with the owners’ knowledge, and it was illegal for drivers or owners to remove or tamper with them.

But just how effective are they at holding waste transporters to account?

An EPA NSW spokesperson told Waste Management Review that to its knowledge, NSW was the first state to use GPS tracking on high-risk waste transporters. This means that the tracking devices have been fitted to trucks already suspected of illegal dumping.

“To date, surveillance on the trucks have shown they are not illegally dumping waste so the program is having the desired deterrent effect,” the spokesperson says.

The spokesperson says they have completed the trial stage and are now rolling out the GPS tracking program as one of its many compliance tools.

Rob White, Professor of Criminology at the University of Tasmania, says the technology could prove useful in gathering intelligence on licenced operators, ensuring they are compliant with the conditions of their licence.

“It will be a useful tool over time, but one that will need to be monitored carefully. The EPA can construct maps of movements of trucks over time, so from the point of intelligence it’s quite a useful thing,” Rob says.

“Of course, not all of the perpetrators of illegal dumping are employed in the legal industry or are licenced.

“So we still need a range of measures to make sure that we can get to those who are involved in illegal dumping but who may not be registered, or licenced, or subject to a GPS tracker.”

He notes that there are various types of illegal dumping that need to continue to be monitored, including opportunistic illegal dumping, which is often unplanned, compared to intentional dumping by criminal groups.

“There’s people with a truck thinking that they’re not being watched, so there’s opportunities there.

“It’s cheaper for them to dump, rather than to dispose of it, or depending on what kind of waste it is, to take it to the proper dump site and pay the money. I think the GPS system will really help, particularly with licenced operators in helping to reduce opportunistic dumping,” Rob says.

Read the full story on page 58 of Issue 13.