About 15 kilometres outside of Bridgewater, N.S., piles of Christmas trees, electronics and paint cans sit in an otherwise undisturbed area of the woods. To most people, this heap of garbage is nothing but an eyesore, but to Angela Taylor it's a gold mine of clues.
It's Taylor's job to sift through what people illegally dump in the woods or on the side of roads, figure out who did it and make them pay.
This spring, the outreach and compliance officer received special constable status under the Police Act. It gives Taylor more authority to crack down on illegal dumpers who continue to plague rural communities like the South Shore.
"You definitely don't need any CSI [crime-scene investigation] training to figure it out," said Taylor.
"Typically at a dump site, within the first five seconds I can figure out who the waste belongs to, what wedding they attended over the weekend, what their child's name is."
Taylor has set up cameras in problem areas in the hopes of catching someone in the act, and while she's yet to issue her first ticket, some of her investigations are getting close.
Not getting worse, but not getting better
The three sites that Taylor visited last week are full of items that could have been thrown away in people's household trash or dropped off for free at a nearby recycling centre.
"I don't think it's getting worse, but it's not getting better and that's where I think enforcement is key unfortunately," said Taylor, who oversees enforcement for the towns of Bridgewater, Mahone Bay and the Muncipality of the District of Lunenburg.
Taylor's special constable status allows her to issue summary offence tickets under the Environment Act. Fines range from $250 to as much as $5,000 for repeat offenders.
David Mitchell, the mayor of Bridgewater, says illegal dumping is a big issue in Lunenburg County. He's concerned about the image it sends to visitors, but also what it says about how residents feel about their own communities.
"It comes back to pride of place ... just have a little bit more respect ... and part of that is take your stuff to the waste site where it belongs," said Mitchell.
Lee Nauss, a councillor with the Municipality of the District of Lunenburg, worries about trash that's dumped in wooded areas.
"It is an environmental issue because we don't know what they're dumping," said Nauss.
"They could be throwing out waste that is illegal to dump anywhere except in a certain site, such as oils and chemicals."
Shingles a big problem
Ilegally dumped shingles and construction supplies are common finds as contractors and homeowners look to save a few extra dollars, said Taylor.
It costs between $85 and $115 to dispose of a tonne of shingles at the Lunenburg Regional Community Recycling Centre.
According to the Waste Resource Association of Nova Scotia, which collected information from 118 illegal dump sites, 71 per cent of sites have identifying information.
For the cases that she can't solve, Taylor says crews work as quickly as they can to clean up the mess so more people don't dump trash on the same site.
"Having no witnesses … yeah, it makes my job a lot harder, but that doesn't mean that they're going to get away with it," said Taylor.