Construction and demolition waste in the U.S. accounts for one third of the entire nation's waste.
Illegal dumping has become a significant problem across the U.S.
Garbage, automobiles, household appliances, hazardous materials and construction or demolition material are often disposed of illegally to avoid the inconvenience and cost of proper waste disposal.
As the problem continues to grow, the majority of states have enacted laws to address it. And these laws are strict. They apply to both individuals and companies, they're unsympathetic to ignorance and other defenses and the associated penalties can be very harsh.
What Is Construction Waste?
Construction and demolition waste in the U.S. accounts for one third of the entire nation's waste. If we look at Vermont, for example, we see 195,000 tons of construction and demolition debris generated every year. The specific type of waste varies depending on the project, but typically demolition waste is mainly natural or treated wood, asphalt roofing, flooring materials, insulation, plastic bathroom suites and plumbing paraphernalia.
New construction can produce similar waste. However, it generates more foam insulation and particle board, pressurized lumber, plywood and plastic buckets. There can also be faulty or non-functional household appliances and other anomalies that find their way into the mix every now and again.
Since 2008, almost 10,000 new properties have been built in Vermont, meaning that old ones must have come down before the new ones went up — given the sheer scale of waste generated in this field, proper disposal is critical to protecting the public, the environment and animals.
That's because chemicals from many of these materials go on to contaminate wells and surface water and are also extremely flammable. Furthermore, certain items, such as tires, are sometimes infested with mosquitoes, which can harbor dangerous diseases.
What Constitutes Illegal Dumping?
First of all, the law makes a distinction between littering and illegal dumping, as determined by the nature and amount of waste. Depending on the state you're in, illegal dumping can be considered a misdemeanor or a felony, but will be judged largely on:
- The amount of waste you have dumped;
- The nature of the waste and if it is harmful or hazardous in any way;
- If a business or individual committed the illegal dumping; and
- If the defendant has committed any prior offenses.
The actual definition usually involves one of the below scenarios:
- Dumping waste on a property that's not licensed or allowed to receive any waste;
- Dumping waste into sewers or water conveyors without a permit; and
- Accepting waste onto your property without a license.
Penalties could include incarceration, fines, probation or community service.
How Can You Dispose of Your Waste Properly?
To prevent "wildcat dumping," the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) Region 5, Chicago, has put together a guidebook on how to avoid illegal dumping. The guide advocates affordable pickup services for trash and any recyclable material. It also stresses the importance of leadership on the subject by local officials, cooperation among authorities and industry, publicizing any successes and, of course, an integrated approach with communities.
And while there should be services and schemes that are affordable and convenient in your locality, as a construction owner or worker, you need to be aware of what proper disposal looks like for you and how you can minimize your waste:
1. Having a sweeper on site can give you a place to hold debris or toxic materials until you are ready to dispose of them properly, i.e., dump trash into a container dump.
2. Do not burn your foam insulation, carpets, PVC pipe or any other synthetic materials as doing so will release pollutants.
3. Minimize your generation of waste by:
a. building it back into your new build through recycling construction materials;
b. building to standard dimensions so that the requirement for adaptation is less, reducing waste;
c. locating your nearest recycling center to minimize your overall impact; and
d. deconstructing instead of demolishing to remove reusable items safely.
Illegal dumping is becoming more and more of an issue, so penalties will likely become stronger and more widespread. If you follow the above steps carefully and remain aware of how much waste you generate though, you'll avoid any penalties as well as reduce the harmful impacts of illegal dumping.
Megan Wild writes is a freelance writer who specializes in construction. You can find some of her work on sites like Engineering.com, Procore, Construction Equipment Guide, and more. Follow her on Twitter @Megan_Wild.