Illegal Dumping is More Than a Minor Crime

This illegal dump in Silver Springs, Nevada cost $66,000 to clean up, according to the US Bureau of Land Management - photo: BLM Nevada, licensed under CC BY 2.0

Opinion

Unfortunately, we have a serious problem in our region: illegal dumping.  If you venture to the outskirts of Carson City, Dayton, Fernley, Sparks, and Reno, you will find numerous sites where people have intentionally discarded unwanted items.  Some of the items include, but are not limited to, couches, dressers, televisions, grills, brake pads, rotors, exhaust pipes, mufflers, tires, cars, boats, roof shingles, scrap wood, yard waste, bottles, cans, and needles.  Certain locations have become their own isolated, makeshift landfills that simply cannot be ignored.

Part of the reason why I find this issue so upsetting is that I subscribe to some of the tenets of deep ecology as developed by philosophers Arne Naess and George Sessions.  To me, the animals, plants, and soil all have inherent value, i.e., a value completely independent of whatever human beings choose to attribute to them.  They deserve our respect.  So, when any person disposes of their refuse in such a careless manner, they have committed a serious transgression against nature.  In addition, Naess and Sessions suggest that the impact human beings have on the environment is both unrestrained and detrimental.  As a result, anyone who shares such views has a moral responsibility to address the damage that is being done.

While items such as scrap wood and yard waste degrade over a relatively short period of time, other materials like metal, plastic, and glass will take much longer even when exposed to the desert elements.  Here we must think about how the broken glass and microplastics will contaminate the soil for centuries to come.  We should also be concerned about the many older televisions left behind because their cathode ray tubes contain lead, which is part of why recycling them is so important.

Pickup truck bed of refuse headed to the transfer station in Dayton Nevada, March 2021. Picture taken by John A. Duerk

Now, if you consult the Nevada Revised Statutes, you will find that illegal dumping (NRS-444.630) is classified as either a misdemeanor or a gross misdemeanor depending on whether a person is a repeat offender within a certain time frame.  This means a jail sentence is possible.  Moreover, any individual who is caught must also participate in cleaning up the spot where they left their refuse behind.  This punishment appears somewhat lenient when you consider what you find at some of these popular sites in the area.  Is it proportional to the harm they cause?  Though nowhere on the level of an oil spill, it could be categorized as ecocide – especially if a local business is repeatedly doing this to avoid paying the costs associated with proper waste disposal.  It begs the question when you frequently see items like construction materials.

Whenever a site is discovered, residents have multiple options that they can pursue to help.  To start, someone must determine whether the refuse lies on either private or public property before proceeding with any clean-up effort.  Never access any private land without permission from the owner.  If the land is public, then a person must determine whether it is city, county, or federal land because that determines who should be contacted about it.  For example, Carson City has a webpage where people may submit a report that allows them to type a short narrative and even upload pictures.  The report will be directed to Code Enforcement.  In addition, the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office provides an App that can be used to report illegal dump sites that fall within its jurisdiction.  Lastly, you can inform the Bureau of Land Management’s Carson City District Office, but please understand that they have millions of acres to cover with a limited staff.  So, they most likely will not be able to do more than take note of the location that you have found.

Fortunately, there is a local nonprofit organization called Desert Pigs (click here for a recent video) that has been combating this problem for almost three years.  They have moved countless truckloads of refuse from illegal dump sites to either a waste transfer station or a nearby landfill.  Last November, I read about their work and connected with the group’s president, Phil Wooley, who has assembled a solid team of committed volunteers that join him on the weekends.  He immediately mobilized people to help me clear a ravine on the edge of Carson City in early December.  Yes, progress has been made there.  Since then, I formally joined the organization through attending other clean-ups from Fernley (click here for a video) to Silver Springs.  We could really use your help.


John A. Duerk, Ph.D., is the contributing editor of a new anthology, Environmental Philosophy, Politics, and Policy, published by Lexington Books.  Find him online at www.johnaduerk.net.


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