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The Price to Pay for Littering and Illegal Dumping

When waste isn't properly disposed of, it ends up scattered across our communities and in the surrounding environment. Littering and the illegal dumping of waste always comes with a price tag. Polluters, if caught, can receive fines for irresponsible behaviour, however it is often the case that litter and illegally dumped waste aren't accounted for, thereby passing the bill over to the natural world.


The difference between litter and illegal dumping is the volume of waste being dumped. If less than 200 litres (the size of the average wheelie bin) of waste is dumped, then it is considered litter. If more than 200 litres is dumped, then it is considered illegal dumping.


Littering is an act more commonly done by pedestrians who cannot find a general waste bin or motorists who can't be bothered to pull over and dispose of their waste properly. The problem of illegal dumping is less easy to get away with in broad daylight, which is why so much waste dumping happens in remote areas at night. Far too often does industrial waste in Adelaide not find its way into the waste stream, but into animal habitats instead. While the acts of littering and the illegal dumping of waste may be more convenient or cheaper, it is by far more costly in terms of government spending to remedy the problem and in terms of potential harm to the environment.


Costs of Improperly Disposed Waste


Picking up litter and dumped rubbish is costly. The SA government reported that between 2005 and 2007, nearly $2.5 million was spent on the removal and disposal of improperly disposed waste. While some waste is picked up at the expense of taxpayers' dollars, a lot of it is removed by volunteers. According to the Keep Australia Beautiful National Association, up to $100 million of voluntary labour is given by over 90,000 volunteers on an annual basis. Compared to most nations around the world, the waste disposal and removal systems in Adelaide and SA in general are quite advanced and convenient. Rubbish collection and removal is a big business that only works if people throw their trash in waste bins.


Littering and illegal dumping is also costly in terms of the resources that are lost in the process of dumping waste in the environment. Much of Australia's waste is used as a resource to create other goods, to grow food, or as a fuel to power industry, therefore when waste isn't managed properly, we do not benefit from all it has to offer in its second life.


Fines Charged for Illegal Dumping


In South Australia, the fines for littering aren't negligible. As mandated by the Local Government (Litter) Amendment Bill 2008, the maximum fine for litter a small item is $750, while the littering of larger waste can cost up to $2,500 in fines. For all items that either caused or were likely to cause harm to humans, animals or property, the maximum fine that may be prescribed is $5,000. These are hefty prices to pay, especially since waste disposal in public waste bins is free.


Illegal dumping fines are much larger, and rightly so since the impact is so much larger. Industrial and commercial waste often contains items that are more harmful to the environment than household waste. The table below summarizes the maximum fees that could be charged under the Environmental Protection Act 1993 to persons or corporations found guilty of illegal dumping.


Type of Infraction

Fines For Individuals

Fines For Corporations

Allowing waste to be dumped on your land



Waste producers or transporters who dispose waste illegally

$120,000 and 2 years imprisonment


Dumping waste that causes serious environmental harm

$500,000 and 4 years imprisonment



Costs to the Community and the Environment


While people and corporations may pay heavy fees for irresponsible disposal of waste, it is too often the environment that must pay the bill. When rubbish doesn't find its way into a waste bin, it winds up in streams, in soil and even within animals who accidentally consume it. The types of harm that litter can have on ecosystems include: habitat destruction, accidental fires, the leaching of heavy metals and toxins into waterways, increased spreading of diseases and injury to animals from cuts, starvation, internal ruptures and death. Apart from being unsightly, rubbish in the environment also poses a threat to humans as well. Broken glass near campsites, cigarette butts in lakes and cans and bottles that act as breeding grounds for mosquitoes who transmit diseases are all serious threats to human health.


As with so many environmental problems, the individual action of polluting doesn't seem to have much effect, however the combined pollution of millions of people littering and dumping waste everyday, turns it into a global problem. It is estimated that approximately 18% of all waste not properly disposed of in a waste bin ends up in waterways and oceans. So the next time you're considering if your trash will really trash the environment, remember to give a hoot and don't pollute. The world will thank you.