What is Considered Illegal Dumping?

As a rule of thumb, law-breaking is the sort of thing that happens out of sight when nobody’s looking. Yes, you may end up feeling the effects of corruption or fraud, but you’re unlikely to ever see them taking place out in the open. Acts like dumping and littering, however, tend to be the exception to this rule. Take a drive through a big city or a popular thoroughfare and you’ll normally find bits of trash and litter speckling the streets and alleyways. In some areas, you may even find small man-made hills and mounds where piles of garbage have been packed on top of each other until they block the pathway. This sort of behaviour is as damaging as it is unsightly, but it also has a habit of raising a few interesting questions, for instance – What is illegal dumping? How is it different from littering? And what are the penalties for both? What is Considered Illegal Dumping?

Illegal dumping falls under the definition of ‘unauthorised disposal’ in the National Environment Management: Waste Act 59 of 2008

This definition can be roughly summed up as any burial, deposit, discharge, abandoning, dumping, placing or release of waste into any area that has not been authorised by law and includes dumping which may cause environmental pollution or harm to health and well-being. 

What is Considered Illegal Dumping?
What is Considered Illegal Dumping?

Simply put, most areas of the country offer some sort of municipal waste collection or an authorised area in which waste may be disposed of. Getting rid of your waste in any other manner will normally constitute illegal dumping and can get you into trouble. 

There are, however, one or two caveats to this rule including instances in which municipal waste services are not offered for household refuse or when the dumping was done to protect human life or in some kind of emergency. 

What is the Difference Between Littering and Illegal Dumping?

The terms littering and illegal dumping are often used synonymously to refer to the illegal disposal of trash. Some bylaws may exclude littering from the definition of illegal dumping and instead use it to refer to waste which has not been properly disposed of in public littering containers, but, for the most part, this specification plays a minor role in the determination of littering vs dumping.  

If we’re being pedantic, perhaps we could say that the key distinction is a difference in degree rather than a difference in kind.

In other words, littering usually refers to smaller illegal disposals such as when a person throws an empty can onto the sidewalk because they can’t find a bin. On the other hand, illegal dumping would usually indicate a larger deposit such as when a person leaves multiple trash bags or a broken appliance in an area rather than taking it to the local garbage dump. 

What is Legal Dumping?

Legal dumping usually refers to waste disposal that is done in an authorised manner. This normally involves either taking your refuse to a municipal garbage dump or leaving it in proper order in an area for pick up as determined by your local government (ie, on the verge on garbage day).

What are the Effects of Illegal Dumping?

When people think about the negative effects of illegal dumping, they usually think of the visual side of things – It’s not nice to look at and it brings down the ascetics of the neighbourhood. 

While this is a valid point to make, there are many other issues that stem from this kind of widespread littering and some of them are a lot more harmful than you might imagine. 

Effects of Illegal Dumping/Littering

Environmental Pollution – A lot of the garbage that we dump is quite unnatural to the local ecosystems. Plastic can easily choke animals that swallow it and many chemicals can contaminate the soil and water if they’re not probably disposed of. 
Harm to Others – Broken bottles, syringes and pieces of scrap metal are just some of the things found in garbage dumps which can seriously injure or infect those who come into contact with them. Just imagine the harm a shard of glass or a rusty nail could cause if a child happened to fall on them while playing. 
Flooding – When rains begin to fall, we need stormwater drains to be free and clear if we want them to effectively get rid of the excess water. Heaps of trash and debris can wash into these drains and block up the entrances. These blockages virtually negate the presence of the drains and flooding generally ensues. 
Disease and Vermin – Piles of garbage provide the perfect nesting ground for mosquitoes, rats, cockroaches, and more. These animals, alongside any hazardous waste, can spread disease and infection to the local populace. 
Economic Impacts – Litter doesn’t just pick itself up after a certain amount of time has passed. Instead, the government has to hire workers to maintain the streets and clear out areas that have become impromptu dumping grounds. All these efforts require funding which could be better spent in a variety of other sectors. Additionally, excessive littering has a negative impact on tourism and property markets which reduces the overall amount of capital coming into the area. 
What is Considered Illegal Dumping?
What is Considered Illegal Dumping?

How do you Address Illegal Dumping?

Most municipalities have their own dedicated hotlines which can be contacted to report and deal with illegal dumping and excessive littering. Online resources are also available and can supply residents with helpful information and contact details. 

For the sake of convenience, here are a few numbers which may be able to assist with instances of illegal dumping – 

How Much Do You Get Fined for Dumping Rubbish?

The penalties for illegal dumping and littering will be varying depending on multiple factors, such as – 

  • The extent/severity of the infraction
  • The nature of the refuse (for eg, hazardous waste may result in a harsher penalty)
  • Whether or not you are a repeat offender 
  • The local ordinance 
  • etc

Generally speaking, if you get caught illegally dumping garbage, you’ll probably receive a fine ranging between R500 – R10 000, and/or you may be ordered to clean up your mess.

In serious cases, you could even receive a prison sentence ranging from a few months to a few years

Additional penalties may also build up each day in the case of repeat offenders. 

Is Dumping Rubbish a Criminal Offence?

Yes, it is. Section 26 of the Waste Act 59 clearly prohibits the dumping of rubbish in unauthorised areas as well as the dumping of hazardous pollutants. 

Additionally, section 27 of the act succinctly covers the topic of littering. It effectively prohibits littering in public areas and places certain duties on individuals when dealing with littering in privately-owned spaces. 

Put plainly, dumping rubbish in unauthorised public spaces (whether it takes the form of illegal dumping or simple littering), is a criminal offence and can result in harsh penalties depending on the severity of the infraction and the municipal ordinance of the area. 

What is Considered Illegal Dumping?

In Conclusion – What is Illegal Dumping and How is it Punished?

Illegal dumping refers to the abandonment of refuse in any unauthorised area or any dumping of material which can cause environmental pollution and/or harm to the health and well-being of others. 

In other words, illegal dumping takes place when trash is left in areas that have not been sanctioned by the local municipality (ie, in the local park instead of at the local garbage dump). There are some exceptions to this rule (for example, if the refuse was dumped to protect human life or if no authorised zones were made available for household refuse) but, generally speaking, leaving your garbage in unauthorised locations is considered to be illegal dumping.

Although illegal dumping is oftentimes used synonymously with littering, there is, in fact, a difference between the two. Illegal dumping is usually used to refer to the abandonment of relatively large amounts of trash (ie, multiple bags of garbage, broken appliances, etc), whereas littering normally refers to smaller pieces of debris that should have been disposed of in a public litter container (ie, throwing an empty can into the gutter instead of looking for a bin). 

Despite this difference, both activities are prohibited and each carries fines and penalties in proportion to their severity. 

Depending on the intensity and nature of the crime, offenders could face anything from fines to prison sentences in the way of punishment. Additionally, extra penalties exist for repeat offenders which can build up as the infractions continue. 

On average, most people convicted of littering or illegal dumping will be looking at a fine of a few hundred, to a few thousand rand, however, more serious violations could result in multiple years behind bars. 

Illegal dumping is considered to be a major issue in South Africa as it negatively impacts the surrounding area in a multitude of ways. 

Most notably, illegal dumping can –

  • Provide a breeding ground for vermin and disease
  • Create a dangerous environment for others
  • Depreciate the market value of the surrounding area
  • Dissuade tourism 
  • Increase the risk of flooding

Each municipality has its own set of contact details which can be utilised to report and deal with instances of illegal dumping and excessive littering.  

Disclaimer LAW101: All of our posts are for research purposes only. Law 101 aims to assist its readers with useful information on the laws of our country that can guide you to make decisions in line with the South African Governmental Laws currently in place. Although our posts cite the constitution in many instances, they are intended to assist readers who are looking to expand their knowledge of the law. Should you require specific legal advice we advise you to get in touch with a qualified legal expert.

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