British Columbia

'People are sick of it': communities across B.C. grapple with illegal dumping

Mattresses, couches, TV's, abandoned pets, and even animal caracasses — the summer of 2016 has been a busy one for community cleanup crews while B.C.'s Ministry of Environment wants citizens to stop illegal dumping.

Volunteer cleanup crews emerge across the province to pick up old TV's, hide-a-beds, and even abandoned pets

Campbell River cleanup crews are trying to stop illegal dumping on rural roads that community members like to use for things like trail riding. (Jamie Andrews/Facebook)

Jme Andrews has seen a lot of illegal dumping on the backroads of Campbell River. She's come across old TV's, hide-a-beds, and even abandoned pets.

"I was out there trail riding on Tuesday and found a kitten that someone booted out of their vehicle," said Andrews, adding that the seven-week kitten is far too affectionate to have been feral.

The kitten, whose since been named Scrappy, might be the only treasure amongst trash. The rest of the junk — paint cans, oil drums, and even garbage bags filled with animal carcasses — she collects with a horde of volunteers once every few months and takes to the dump.

Jme Andrews' daughter comforts an abandoned kitten found on a logging road. (Jamie Andrews/CBC)

"Most people are willing to help out, because people are sick of it," said Andrews, who's in the midst of organizing her third community cleanup in the region.

Across British Columbia, countless communities have reached the same tipping point: mobilize volunteers to start cleaning up abandoned waste, or watch the garbage pile up.

In Kelowna, the Okanagan Forest Task Force has emerged to cleanup the backwoods, while in the Fraser Valley, Chilliwack Cleanup has formed to not only pick up litter, but pull out thousands of nails buried deep along the river from what's been decades of illegal dumping and burning.

An onion of a problem

According to Brock MacDonald, CEO of the Recycling Council of British Columbia, the problem across the province is more complex than people think.

"This is an onion that has a lot of layers," he said on CBC's BC Almanac. "No matter how you peel it, you tend to end up crying."

MacDonald says dumping is happening in every community in British Columbia, and that the RCBC has been monitoring it closely.

They're currently assessing the efficacy of platforms like Surrey's Pop-Up Junk Day — a community event where residents can drop off their junk and save on disposal fees — as a potential solution to the problem.

Pop-Up Junk Day happens six times a year in Surrey and is an opportunity for residents to save on disposal fees and for the city to cut down on illegal dumping. (CBC)

He admits that getting rid of garbage can be difficult. He attributes a lot of the dumping in back alleys to many residents not having access to trucks or vehicles large enough to transport furniture to the dump.

"Perhaps there needs to be something that can be done for those folks that have a transportation issue," he said, adding that the RCBC's research is suggesting that a lot of the dumping in the city is occurring out of convenience.

With furniture commonly being dumped, MacDonald hopes that one day it could be regulated by the provincial recycling program.

"You could actually have a social enterprise where people bring in their old furniture and they're repaired and recovered by people that are learning that trade," he said.

Not pointing the finger

But for now, many community groups across the province are taking cleaning matters into their own hands.

The Campbell River cleanup crew plans to make a big effort before the end of the month to get to the waste before the rain comes in, while Kelowna's volunteer Okanagan Forest Task Force will bring a Bobcat to Postill Lake Road to take care of the region's trash problem.

According to the task force's organizer Kane Blake, there's no single group of people responsible for the waste.

Backwoods dumping in Kelowna has prompted the formation of the Okanagan Forests Task Force, which tries to keep junk out of natural spaces. (Ron Lancour/OFTF/Facebook)

"It's hard to point one finger at one specific group," said Blake. "It's a mixture of everybody and it's also a combination of people being lazy."

Blake urges citizens who see illegal dumping occur to take a picture with their cell phones and report the culprits.

B.C.'s Ministry of Environment warns citizens not to confront or apprehend someone in the process of illegal dumping, but to report polluters to the government.

"It's an activity that shouldn't happen," said Chris Doyle, Deputy Chief in Charge of Provincial Operations for the B.C. Conservation Officer Service. "People need to be more responsible with their waste and not have an environmental impact or be attracting bears or putting waste that could be harmful to people to the bush."

"We certainly will look at it from an enforcement point of view," said Doyle.

According to B.C.'s Environmental Management Act, people convicted of illegally dumping waste can face fines up to $1 million and face jail time.

With files from CBC's BC Almanac

To listen to the full interview, click on the audio labelled: B.C. residents are fed up with illegal garbage dumping


Jon Hernandez

Video Journalist

Jon Hernandez is an award-winning multimedia journalist from Vancouver, British Columbia. His reporting has explored mass international migration in Chile, controversial logging practices in British Columbia, and the global HIV/AIDS epidemic. Follow Jon Hernandez on Twitter: