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Environment & Energy

Environmental Group Launches Initiative To Help Municipalities Crack Down On Illegal Dumping

Litterbugs beware: There might be someone watching you.

A Pennsylvania environmental group has launched a new initiative to provide municipalities with the equipment to catch people illegally dumping trash on camera.

Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful, a volunteer-based environmental organization funded by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, will loan surveillance kits to municipalities that apply. The kits contain three cameras that can capture images of litterers and their license plates, even at night. Those images can then be used to prosecute offenders, who might face fines or jail time.

According to Shannon Reiter, President of Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful, municipalities do not have the funding or the manpower to enforce anti-dumping laws. She said it can be difficult to apprehend offenders, and even more difficult to prosecute them in court.

“Even if they (police, through a tip) do come up with a name or a phone number, there’s no proof that that person is the one that dumped it,” Reiter said. “And that’s where this program really steps in and provides that photographic evidence that would really hold up in court.”

The surveillance equipment includes on camera to capture license plate photographs, one to snap images of the overall dump scene, and on that sends images and messages about site activity to cell phones or email addresses of enforcement agency members. The motion-triggered cameras come with protective cases and will be heavily camouflaged, according to Reiter.

According to Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful, there are approximately 6,500 illegal dumpsites across the state, with every county being affected. Reiter said dumpsites are anything from a few tires by the side of the road to a mountain of appliances, furniture and waste.

“It’s really anything that’s illegally disposed of, whether it’s on the side of the road, over an embankment, down the hill, or in our waterways,” Reiter said.

According to a 2005-2009 PA CleanWays survey, Allegheny County has about 500 illegal dump sites. Beltzhoover, Carrick, East Hills, Greenfield, the West End and the Southside Slopes were among the neighborhoods with more than 15 sites.

Reiter said trash dumpers will be warned via media campaign that they might face trouble next time they illegally take out the trash.

“We will not advertise where the cameras are placed specifically, but we will alert the communities that there are a set of eyes watching and that illegal dumping will not be tolerated,” Reiter said.

According the Reiter, the initiative started in 2013 with a meeting between Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful representatives and members of law enforcement agencies about the problem of illegal dumping. According to the environmental organization, municipalities can spend thousands of dollars cleaning up unlawful trash heaps, with no way to catch offenders and hold them responsible through fines.

Collier Township in Allegheny County was one of three communities to participate in a surveillance kit pilot program in 2013. Reiter said the camera kits were successful, and led to three prosecutions of litterers in Collier in a two month period.  

The program has 30 sets of cameras available for municipalities to borrow. More will be purchased on an as-needed basis as long as funds last, Reiter said.