Illegal Dumping

Illegal Dumping - Definition

Illegal dumping is defined as discarding waste in an improper or illegal manner, where it doesn’t belong and/or where environmental damage is likely because of the improper disposal.   Illegal dumping occurs when a person (or business) discards waste where it doesn’t belong rather than disposing of it through proper channels, through a licensed waste hauler, recycler, or permitted landfill.  This often occurs because proper disposal is too “inconvenient”, the perpetrator does not want to pay the disposal fee, or does not take the time to prepare the material for proper disposal.


Illegal dumps are typically (but not always) found in rural communities, in sparsely populated areas, and along little-traveled roads.   Hidden embankments are prime dumping spots. Almost half of identified illegal dumpsites are directly in or within 50 feet of a waterway.  Types of trash typically found in illegal dumpsites include automobile tires, old appliances, furniture, construction and remodeling debris, and household trash. Increasingly, television sets and computer monitors are showing up in illegal dumpsites because of the cost and restriction on disposal.

Impact of Illegal Dumping

Illegal dumping poses a threat to a community ’s drinking water supply when toxins leach out of the trash through rain water and snow melt, enter the groundwater or directly into a waterway, and work its way into  the community’s source water supply.  Aquatic life and wildlife are also adversely affected by toxins leaching from illegally disposed trash.

Finally, illegal dumping takes its toll on property values and community pride.  Whether in an urban area or rural, once a neighborhood starts to take on that neglected, litter-strewn or trash infested appearance, community pride and investment go by the wayside.

Take the first step to reverse the trend – call Westmoreland Cleanways and Recycling at 724-879-4020 to report a dumpsite or to sponsor a cleanup.

Westmoreland Cleanways and Recycling Philosophy – Local Involvement is Key

Westmoreland Cleanways and Recycling DOES NOT clean up trash that was dumped with the knowledge and consent of the property owner.  We assist with the cleanup of trash on public rights-of-way and on private property where the property owner clearly did not know about the dumping or was not in a position to stop it.

Westmoreland Cleanways and Recycling DOES NOT initiate cleanups without a local contact or partner.  Westmoreland Cleanways and Recycling encourages and assists committed stakeholders to clean up illegally dumped trash in their own neighborhoods and communities.  We’ve found that only when people have a personal stake in cleaning up an area and in keeping it clean will our efforts have a lasting effect.  Without local involvement, sites often become trashed within weeks of a cleanup, wasting everyone’s hard-earned resources. 

Anyone, from anywhere in Westmoreland County, can request assistance from Westmoreland Cleanways and Recycling.  Our staff will meet with you to assess the site to be cleaned  and to develop a plan of attack.  If a site can be handled by volunteers, WC will provide cleanup supplies such as trash bags, gloves, and safety vests.  Disposal for tires and trash is arranged as necessary, using local resources or a hauler.  Most municipal officials are supportive of cleanup efforts in their community and will do what they can to assist the effort.  Cleanup organizers should have their own volunteers lined up for the majority of the labor.

Funding required for illegal dump cleanups varies depending on the volume and type of trash to be disposed, and accessibility and terrain at the site.  Cleanup organizers can often get local businesses to donate refreshments, water, and other supplies.  The use of heavy equipment such as cranes, front-loaders and dump trucks can often (but not always) be arranged at no cost.  Private property owners may be asked to cover some costs if they fall outside the scope of a “typical” cleanup.

PA CleanWays, along with Westmoreland Cleanways and Recycling, released its 2009 Illegal Dump Survey identifying known dumpsites in the county (see following article). Call Westmoreland Cleanways and Recycling today at 724-879-4020 if you would like to organize a cleanup or need assistance cleaning up a dumpsite known to you.

Cleanup Resources

Westmoreland Cleanways and Recycling stands ready to assist any resident, community group, or municipality to organize a litter cleanup or the cleanup of an illegal dumpsite. We recommend that you review any of the following documents, depending on your circumstance. The better prepared you are, the more you know what to expect, and the more bases you cover, the more successful your cleanup will be, and the better the chances of keeping the area clean once you’ve expended your effort.

1. “Tools for Change: Everything You Need to Clean Up Your Community”
PA CleanWays, Inc. 1994 Some of the anecdotes are a bit dated, but an excellent reference for getting started.

2. “Guidelines for Illegal Dump Cleanups: 10 Steps to Organizing an Illegal Dump Cleanup”
Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful 2009

3. “Cleaning Up Your Neighborhood and Keeping It Clean”
PA CleanWays, Inc. 2004

4. “Volunteer Safety Guidelines”
Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful 2014

2009 Westmoreland County Illegal Dump Survey

An Illegal Dump Survey, a concept developed by PA CleanWays in 1990, is a tool for documenting the number of illegal dumps in a community, identifying root causes, educating community stakeholders and the general public, and garnering support and resources to combat the problem.

Westmoreland Cleanways and Recycling (then PA CleanWays of Westmoreland County) conducted its first illegal dump survey in 1991, with 140 sites identified.  A follow-up illegal dump survey was conducted in 1997 to assess the effectiveness of PA CleanWays’ efforts since 1990.  Using more comprehensive techniques for identifying dumpsites, surveyors identified 115 illegal dumpsites in Westmoreland County, some that were originally identified in 1991 and some new sites.  They did NOT include sites that were identified in 1991 but that had been cleaned up in the intervening years.  Volume of trash was estimated by truckloads.  For purposes of comparison, the 1991 survey estimated that the identified dumpsites contained 495 truckloads of trash (a truckload considered to be a single-axle dump truck); 254 truckloads of trash were actually cleaned up between 1991 and 1996; an estimated 542 truckloads of trash remained in the sites identified in the 1997 survey.  More accurate estimation techniques most likely contributed to the increase in estimated volumes of trash from 1991 to 1997.

A third illegal dump survey was conducted in 2009, again to measure the effectiveness of PA CleanWays/Westmoreland Cleanways and Recycling methodology in combating illegal dumping, to identify any remaining or new illegal dumpsites, and to spot trends since the original survey was completed.

The 2009 Illegal Dump Survey (available here for download) contained some interesting data.  Better tools (digital photography, GPS) and methodology in spotting illegal dumping resulted in a much greater number of sites being found by surveyors than in previous surveys, although the volume of trash found at each site was less.  The purpose of identifying these small sites would be to alert stakeholders to the potential problem areas before they become unmanageable.

Every spring, Keep PA Beautiful and Pick It Up PA Days have cleanup campaigns across our state. This would be a great time to organize a cleanup in Westmoreland County — a great way to protect, restore, and maintain the environmental qualities of our beautiful county. Call Westmoreland Cleanways and Recycling at 724-879-4020 for more information.