23 Jun 2022

The city of Charleston, the state capital of West Virginia, has a problem. It is a problem that has been a big deal for many years now, and it is showing no signs of changing any time soon. We are talking about illegal waste dumping, one of the most problematic and damaging crimes possible in the world of waste disposal. This is an enormous problem in West Virginia, with over 15,000 major illegal dump locations currently on record. That is a huge amount of large-scale waste across the state, affecting the environment, the living situation, and the world around you. But what is the deal with this problem, and why is it such a big deal in the city of Charleston, WV? Let us look into the murky world of illegal dumping for a bit.

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What is Illegal Dumping?

Safe disposal of waste is important, but it costs money. This is because skilled contractors need to break things down and dispose of each part properly and responsibly, which takes effort. Because of this cost, businesses, contractors, and private residents often attempt to skip out on these fees by dumping large amounts of debris, such as broken appliances, somewhere far away from their regular lives. 

In most cases, this waste gets dumped in the woods or by riversides or other similarly isolated areas. Piles of old tires, kitchen appliances, televisions, and similar bulky objects build up in previously unspoiled, isolated locations, causing a number of problems. People usually choose these locations for dumping in an attempt to cover their tracks: there are no security cameras or passers-by in the middle of nowhere! The people who do this know they are doing wrong, as they take pains to leave their waste somewhere they will not get caught, but they do not consider the consequences of this beyond their own interest in avoiding waste disposal fees.

Why Is This a Problem?

There are several different reasons why illegal waste dumping is a major problem, and all of them are important in different ways. The one that most directly affects most of the citizens of Charleston, West Virginia, is the question of who will end up picking up all that trash. The answer to this question is simple: local government is responsible for cleaning up illegal dumping locations, and that means all of the work involved is taking time and money from other important local government services. There is a bit of additional funding for this provided by the state’s department of environmental protection, but that money comes from taxpayer funds. So if people dump their waste in public locations, it is your tax dollars that pay to get it cleaned up.

Every year, the state of West Virginia manages the cleaning up of over 1,000 illegal dumpsites, but more are constantly being created faster than they can be cleaned up. It is important that this waste is cleaned up efficiently because otherwise, it can cause enormous damage to local environments and ecosystems and worse problems if they affect streams, rivers, and other waterways. Unfortunately, the majority of illegal dumping takes place directly into waterways!

So why is dumping appliances in rivers such a problem? Well, there are a few reasons for that. The simplest is that they can leak all sorts of chemicals into the water, poisoning water sources and destroying ecosystems. However, large appliances can also pile up, getting swept downstream until they get stuck. Even debris dumped far away from rivers is not immune to this, as they can be swept away by heavy rainfall and washed into rivers. 

When appliances get piled up in rivers, they can clog up the flow of water. This is a problem because those waterways are essential to life. Waste is often drained into rivers and can back up and cause issues if it can’t drain away. Similarly, it can cause flooding above the blockage and drought below the blockage, potentially causing major disruption to even large cities such as Charleston.

Why is it Happening?

West Virginia’s illegal waste dumping is largely caused by individuals and companies attempting to avoid the small, reasonable fees charged for waste disposal in the state. West Virginia has an abundance of isolated places and waterways, which make appealing sites for illegal dumping, and a number of unscrupulous companies and residents are determined to use these to avoid minor charges, regardless of the impact on the state as a whole. 

How Can This Be Changed?

The good news is that things are improving already. It is slow, and it is not enough, but the enormous number of illegal dumping sites in the state hides the fact that each site is generally smaller than it was at the start of the century. It is not much, but it is something.

Officials are focusing on increasing public awareness of legitimate, accessible garbage disposal methods in the state in the hopes that if people know how to responsibly dispose of their waste, they might be less likely to dump it illegally.

As an alternative, the state of West Virginia is also escalating the penalties for illegal dumpers who are caught in the act. Fines for illegal dumping vary depending on the amount of waste dumped but generally fall in the range of $100-$1000 for a first offense. Repeat offenders who dump large amounts of waste can be punished with up to $25,000 in fines and a year in jail. Hopefully, this will help to discourage people from harming the environment of the state.