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When the COVID-19 crisis hit in March, Cape Breton Regional Municipality Police Const. Dan Lewis, who investigates illegal dump sites, saw his caseload double.
While the landfill was closed to the public from mid-March until June 1, Lewis dealt with 134 complaints of illegal dumping – more than double the normal number. During the same time period in 2019, there were 65 complaints.
“It wasn’t until June (when) they started lifting the restrictions and the dump opened up again that the workload went down,” says Lewis.
Divert NS, the not-for-profit corporation working to improve the environment by reducing, reusing, recycling, and recovering resources, provides $700,000 annually in funding to the seven waste management regions to fund enforcement activities province-wide. This includes reviewing complaints, investigating illegal dump sites, educating residents and businesses on enforcement, auditing waste facilities, and issuing warnings and tickets.
“When you have a mature system like we do in Nova Scotia, at some point you have to use other tools,” says Jeff MacCallum, chief executive officer at Divert NS.
“Enforcement became important in terms of helping direct people to the right behaviours. It’s been very instrumental in helping with illegal dumping in some areas, an activity we want to discourage and make available the options for people to do the right thing. It’s been important from that perspective. I know from the municipalities’ perspective it’s been very helpful.”
"If I can determine who owns the garbage from evidence left at the scene or who put it there, they are certainly visited.”
Cape Breton Regional Municipality started its enforcement program in 2010.
“We use the funding to have a constable carry out our enforcement initiatives around illegal dumping,” says Roschell Clarke, solid waste education coordinator for CBRM Solid Waste. “He will also deal with some curbside non-compliance issues for us if we’re not able to manage it ourselves.”
The way the program works, explains Clarke, is by promoting a hotline for residents to call if they encounter an illegal dump site.
“The hotline gets as much information as possible and they do up what we call a ‘solid waste detail sheet’ that comes to my desk,” says Lewis.
He will determine if it is, in fact, an illegal dump site.
“I read it over. I attend every scene, every dump site, and I look for evidence. If I can determine who owns the garbage from evidence left at the scene or who put it there, they are certainly visited.”
Evidence could be anything from mail to income tax returns to anything with a name. Lewis says prescription bottles are a big one.
“They like to know that there are things getting done when they call to report illegal dumping, instead of calling and leaving the information and then it goes nowhere.”
COVID-19 hinders investigations
What’s recently changed for Lewis is searching through the bags like he used to.
“That had to stop because of COVID and possible contamination of the items in the bags, so our searching process has certainly changed,” he says.
“We rely more now on any eyewitnesses, license plate numbers, colour of the vehicle, direction of travel, all that sort of stuff. We rely on other techniques to determine who was responsible. There are a lot of video cameras around now too, more than ever.”
While litter is common, Lewis deals more with “household garbage that’s deliberately taken off your own property and placed on someone else’s property without permission.”
Charges are at the discretion of the constable, and it’s all based on the level of information that he’s able to gather.
“He has the expertise to know whether something is going to hold up in court,” says Clarke. “There’s all kinds of scenarios of how the garbage gets there as well, depending on where it was located. If it’s the side of the road, it could have fallen off the back of an untarped load. It could have blown there. It doesn't mean that the person actually blatantly brought it there, so he also looks into that as well. Sometimes, it’s intentional; sometimes, it’s unintentional.”
Statements have to be taken if a charge is going to be laid.
“You have to interview everyone because of the fact they may have hired someone to take that to a proper facility and that person elected not to,” says Lewis. “If a charge can be laid, we do, but there are other circumstances as well that could determine a verbal warning.”
The fine for a first offence of illegal dumping is $697.50.
“It’s a really, really good program for us, and our community really likes it,” says Clarke. “They like to know that there are things getting done when they call to report illegal dumping, instead of calling and leaving the information and then it goes nowhere.”
The beauty of the program, explains Clarke, is that Lewis always follows up with the complainant to let them know the outcome.
“Utilizing the funding to get a full-time constable in place has proven to be very effective for Cape Breton Regional Municipality in their objective,” says MacCallum. “It’s a good example of the funding and the programs working.”