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‘It’s terrible’: Cumberland County officials seek strategies to minimize illegal dumping

Board wants penalties for those ‘destroying the aesthetics of our community’


Ask Solid Waste Management Operation Supervisor Tim Middleton about the state of illegal dumping in Cumberland County, and he’ll immediately shake his head and sigh. 

“It’s terrible,” Middleton told CityView on Tuesday. “Every road in this county has litter or illegal dumping.” 

Middleton’s department oversees violations of the litter and illegal dumping code on county property. Violations on private property are handled by code enforcement officers with the county’s planning department, while the N.C. Dept. of Transportation manages litter and dumping on state roadways, according to General Manager for Natural Resources Amanda Bader.

In the county’s latest effort to work to reduce the issue, the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners approved a temporary three-month reduction in solid waste flat fees Monday. The pilot reduction program will run until the end of June, with county staff monitoring the number of users disposing of solid waste and the number of citations issued for illegal dumping, Bader said.

Though the county will lose about $40,000 in fees in that timeframe, Bader told CityView she’s hopeful the program will have long-term benefits. She said she got the idea from County Attorney Rick Moorefield, who asked whether cost might be an issue preventing people from using the county’s Ann Street landfill. Residents can dump up to 4 cubic yards of waste each week for free; otherwise, they face a flat fee of $20 per load for municipal solid waste and $10 per item for bulky items.

What leads to illegal dumping?

Though Bader and Middleton can only hazard a guess at people’s motivations behind illegal dumping, they can point to some commonalities in the cases they’ve seen. Bader noted particular “hot spots” on Camden and Cumberland roads, though she said the issue is now extending to northern parts of the county, too. 

Middleton said farm roads with foliage where the dumpers can hide are especially popular. But even a side road near the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office has become a popular spot for dumping, he added.

Bader said she believes there is a misconception that someone will immediately pick up any waste that is illegally dumped.

“That’s nobody’s job to clean up your mess,” she said. “Don’t make the mess to start with.”

According to the 2023 annual litter report from the NCDOT, last year, the state department collected 1,020,778 pounds — more than 510 tons — of litter in Cumberland County’s division, which also includes Bladen, Columbus, Harnett and Robeson counties. Those collections cost the state $1.5 million, the report says.

The N.C. Dept. of Environmental Quality states illegal dumping is on the rise in North Carolina, something the department attributes to increasing costs for solid waste disposal and an increase in developments. Some experts say littering may also be tied to mere laziness.

“Illegal dumps are not just ugly, they also impact human health, damage the environment and can discourage economic development,” the department’s website states.

According to the DEQ, the following sites can be more prone to illegal dumping:

  • Unsecured properties with many access points
  • Remote areas
  • Poorly lit areas
  • Access roads
  • Service roads
  • Areas with unattended waste containers
  • Areas where illegal dumping has already occurred

The department’s website states that health risks associated with illegal dumping can include: 

  • Breeding places for insects, rodents and other pests
  • Surface and groundwater contamination
  • Flooding due to improper drainage
  • Fire risk
  • Danger to children, especially with abandoned refrigerators or freezers that they may want to play in
  • Disruption of wildlife habitats

According to state law, intentional littering of 15 pounds or less is a misdemeanor punishable by a $250 to $1,000 fine and up to 24 hours of community service, while unintentional littering of 15 pounds or less is an infraction punishable by a maximum $100 fine and up to 12 hours of community service. The minimum fine for littering of 15 to 500 pounds is $500.

Eliminating the issue

Commissioner Jimmy Keefe inquired about the enforcement of solid waste violations at Monday’s board meeting. 

“I’ve had conversations with the DA [district attorney], and there’s not a whole lot that they can do or are willing to do on this,” he said. “But could we possibly have a task force of people who investigate illegal dumping? Because a lot of times, people leave a signature. And they should be penalized. They are destroying the aesthetics of our community.” 

County Manager Clarence Grier told the board the county would soon present a full plan to tackle illegal dumping, but in the meantime, Bader said her staff is working to mitigate the issue through education rather than penalties. 

“There is environmental court [a district court that works with the city and county], but what we find is most of the people come and just get continuances [when hearings are delayed or rescheduled],” she said. “What we try to do is work with the property owner to get it handled.” 

Teaching community members about the importance of proper waste disposal is also crucial, she said, which is why the county runs campaigns like “5 for Friday,” which encourages residents to pick up five pieces of litter each Friday. The county also hosts countywide cleanup events like “Cumberland Clean.”

And while those efforts continue, county staff are working hard to clean up the illegal dumping that does occur. Middleton said the solid waste department’s enforcement officer and an assistant spend 30 hours each week picking up trash. 

“I just can’t say enough about our staff here and their willingness to jump in,” Bader said. “You’re taking away from us doing our other jobs. We need to be working on recycling. We need to be working on innovative waste strategies and other initiatives. It’s robbing us of other resources to tackle this problem, and it’s eventually costing the taxpayer in direct and indirect costs.” 

Cumberland County’s Ann Street landfill is open Monday-Friday from 6:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to noon. Through the end of June, the flat rate fee for pickup trucks hauling municipal solid waste and construction and demolition debris will only be charged $10 per load instead of $20 per load and $5 per single bulky item. 

Reporter Lexi Solomon can be reached at lsolomon@cityviewnc.com or 910-423-6500.

This story was made possible by contributions to CityView News Fund, a 501c3 charitable organization committed to an informed democracy.

Cumberland County, illegal dumping, littering, trash, Cumberland County Board of Commissioners, solid waste, landfill