Perceptions on illegal dumping in the Ethekwini municipality
Illegal dumping is not an Ethekwini problem; it is not even a South African problem. Illegal dumping is a worldwide environmental problem and it has been studied in many countries from many angles. Local beliefs that ‘litter creates jobs’ and ‘it’s my property I’ll do as I please’ compound the problem of dirty streets and piles of rubble and rubbish dumped in back yards. These actions have negative consequences reaching much further than just the location of the dumping itself. Research typically follows either of two main foci: either constructing a database of the known dumping sites within a particular region with a view to developing a cleanup programme and/or monitoring the areas for new dumping, or an assessment of perceptions and motivations for dumping with a view to changing the attitudes and beliefs of the dumping community and ultimately changing the illegal dumping behaviour. Reviewing these latter studies has shown that, almost as many studies as there are, there may be varied correlations between dumping behaviour, age, gender, education, economic bracket, nationality, and any other factor that one may consider studying. In short, the combinations of attitudes and beliefs appear to be, to a degree, community specific and hence the methods by which one would try change those beliefs and ultimately behaviour, would also have to be tailored to that community setting. This study follows the second general focus of aiming to identify the attitudes and beliefs of that sector of Ethekwini residents who have been identified as likely illegal dumpers by virtue of the mounds of building rubble and other waste piled on their properties. In Ethekwini, there are property owners who dump building rubble off their steep banks in order to extend the level portion of the site, either with the intention of building on it later or just for the extra usable space. This end-tipped rubble slides down the slope, damaging sewer and storm water services causing contamination of streams and the designated conservation zones in valley bottoms. The study aimed to determine the reasons for dumping and the attitudes towards illegal dumping, and find out from the affected communities what they considered to be the most effective methods of getting the correct information regarding solid waste disposal out to the general public. To achieve these ends, both those considered to be dumpers and the immediate or nearby affected neighbours were given a semi-structured questionnaire and municipal officials (environmental health officers, building inspectors, municipal law enforcement, solid waste enforcement officers) were interviewed to see how the different departments deal with illegal dumping. The findings, in many respects, affirmed findings of other studies reviewed from Australia, America, Japan, Britain and Canada, that is: people think that it is the government’s responsibility to clean up after them; that what they are doing will have no negative knock-on effect on the environment (either physical or social); and that disposing of bulky waste correctly is expensive, unpleasant and inconvenient. A further community attitude that came out of the interviews that may be specific to the South African situation is the apparent belief that one’s vote is one’s currency; once you have voted for a particular political party, that party is obliged to provide everything you need or want, including to pick up rubbish that has been deliberately dropped. It became evident that the community consider the Ethekwini municipal waste disposal facilities poorly advertised and information about landfills, transfer or garden disposal facilities difficult to access. Even the municipal website, which in the researcher’s opinion is one of the better in South Africa for general information, particularly on environmental matters, is incomplete, out of date and a bit thin on specific details of waste disposal sites when compared to, say, Cape Town municipal website, which lists pages and pages of recycling sites (with company name, address, contact details and materials collected) and had addresses, site photographs and directions to all the municipal disposal facilities at the click of a button. From the results of the questionnaire, it appears that concise, colourful, area relevant information in local (free) community newspapers is the preferred method of spreading information. Almost as popular is a colourful pamphlet with the municipal bill although this will only access that limited portion of the population that actually pays for services. Media such as radio or television will have to be focused at certain times of the day. Newspapers that had to be paid for were the least favoured method of disseminating information. Ideally, education should start at school and be repeated regularly for the new attitudes and behaviours to become engrained in the next generation. The local by-laws governing illegal dumping are out-dated and fragmented; further they are seldom enforced (and to a different degree by the various municipal departments). These by-laws must be updated and fines must reflect the actual costs to enforce and clean up the mess; more importantly, the sanctions must be uniformly enforced and the public must be aware that dumping illegally carries a real risk of fines and/or prison time or at the very least community service and embarrassment in their community. Ideally, the investigating and enforcement of illegal dumping offences should be centralised so that an accurate database of hotspot problem localities and repeat offenders can be developed and monitored. In short, solid waste disposal and environment specific education plus enforcement of strong by-laws must form part of a two pronged assault against illegal dumping and litter in order to change the prevailing selfish attitudes and behaviours.