Illegal dumping is a significant source of environmental pollution in Ireland. Local authorities play a crucial role in detection, enforcement and prevention.
However, a rapid rise in dumping has been reported in recent weeks, coinciding with the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions. This can, in part, be attributed to the increased waste generated by a household in lockdown, including extra waste discarded from home improvement works.
In response to this development, some local authorities have waived or reduced waste charges, while others are stepping up surveillance and enforcement. Illegal dumping is punishable by criminal sanctions (both fines and / or terms of imprisonment), and offences include:
- Dumping household waste
- Operating waste collection services without permits, and
- Disposal of waste which causes environmental pollution
To effectively enforce these types of offences, local authorities rely on both traditional methods, such as inspections and investigations by waste enforcement officers, as well as utilising modern technology such as drone footage and CCTV.
In 2017, the Anti-Dumping Initiative, which is an annual programme run in conjunction with local authorities and community partnerships, was launched. The Waste Enforcement Regional Lead Authorities (WERLAs) co-ordinate the initiatives, which are reviewed each year. In 2019, over 300 individual projects across Ireland received funding
The overall aim of the initiative is to reduce incidents of illegal dumping nationally by providing funding for projects tackling the problem. These include the provision of support for the monitoring and surveillance of dumping blackspots and the development of an integrated and effective approach to dealing with this issue using a collaborative approach with local authorities, communities and other state agencies.
One of the National Waste Enforcement Priorities for 2019 was tackling significant illegal waste activities including illegal dumping.
Given that illegal dumping during COVID-19 is a real threat to the progress made in recent years, the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment has announced special funding for enforcement measures. €1 million from the Anti-Dumping Initiative budget is now ring-fenced to enable local authorities to both clear existing dump sites, and resource surveillance such as CCTV systems for waste specifically arising from the current lockdown.
While local authorities carry out the majority of waste enforcement proceedings in Ireland, multi-agency co-operation is “an increasingly effective tool in waste enforcement” according to the latest Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) performance report. A continuation of the intelligence-led approach between the WERLAs and other regulatory authorities such as An Garda Síochána and the Revenue Commissioners will be central to robust enforcement actions and identifying problem dumping sites during COVID-19.
Effective deterrent measures will hopefully discourage people from engaging in this anti-social behaviour.
To achieve real results, any enforcement mechanism must be properly resourced. Therefore the government announcement of special funding to tackle COVID-19 related illegal dumping is to be warmly welcomed. However, against a backdrop of economic uncertainty, what will be critical in the coming months and years is at a minimum maintaining the overall levels of funding for illegal waste enforcement measures.