Texas communities are fighting an expensive battle against litter and illegal dumping.
In February, Texans for Clean Water, a nonprofit organization formed by business leaders to address the problem of waterway litter, released study findings that quantify how much litter and illegal dumping is directly costing communities. The study, conducted by consulting firm Burns & McDonnell, examines annual cost data for prevention, education and outreach, abatement and enforcement efforts to address trash and debris littered or dumped in nine cities.
The nine cities — Austin, Corpus Christi, El Paso, Fort Worth, Houston, Laredo, Lufkin, Midland, and San Antonio — represent 25 percent of the state’s population and spend more than $50 million annually on litter and illegal dumping issues.
The study used only direct costs reported by local governments and associated organizations and by not including expenditures by private business or valuation of volunteer time, $50 million is likely a lower estimate than actual costs.
“We wanted to present a study of hard data,” said Scott Pasternak, Senior Project Manager at Burns & McDonnell, “By using only direct costs, without extrapolation, we can show the real- world receipts of these efforts.”
According to the study, nonprofit organizations, water districts, cities, counties and law enforcement entities are commonly involved in efforts to prevent and cleanup litter. Methods vary widely, from creating law enforcement units specifically tasked with catching illegal dumpers to advertising campaigns featuring angry grandmas.
There is a common trend across all nine cities, however: the amount of money spent cleaning up illegally discarded materials greatly surpassing all other categories. According to the study, 52 percent, or $26 million, of the money spent by all nine cities went towards litter abatement with another 14 percent, $7 million, going towards cleaning up illegal dumps.
“A possible follow up to this study could be an evaluation of enforcement mechanisms and jurisdictions for these violations, to get a better understanding of how effective the current system is in prosecuting what are criminal acts.” said Maia Corbitt, a consultant for Booth, Ahrens and Werkenthin, a law firm specializing in environmental and water law.
“Materials that are littered or illegally dumped get into our waterways and can affect water quality, critical infrastructure for flood control and irrigation, reduce valuable water storage space, eventually flow to the gulf and as you can see, costs a lot of taxpayer money.”
The study demonstrates how many departments and organizations work on this issue within a community. Ten different nonprofits and governmental entities provided data for the City of Houston, which adds up to more than $21 million per year or about $7 per resident.
Some insights provided by communities include efforts to better coordinate between departments as in the case of Fort Worth’s Litter Summit.
“We realized that bringing the multiple stakeholders across the city together to talk about what each department was doing could help us better coordinate efforts to more effectively serve our residents and visitors to Fort Worth.” said Debbie Branch, Resource Recovery Planner & Keep Fort Worth Beautiful Director.
“This is a great study, but there is much left unanswered,” said Mike Garver, founder of Texans for Clean Water “including which methods are the best at reducing the amount of materials being littered and illegally dumped. It also does not show which practices are the most cost effective.”
There are a handful of bills filed this legislative session intending to impact litter and illegal dumping in Texas. House Bill 2140, filed by Rep. Ryan Guillen, D- Rio Grande City, would create a statewide group to determine the best management practices and funding mechanisms for windblown and waterborne litter. House Bill 1884, filed by Rep. “Doc” Anderson, R-Waco, would add a community service requirement for litter violators.
“These study cities are working hard and demonstrate their commitment to keeping a clean community but windblown and waterborne trash doesn’t recognize municipal boundaries. It’s going to take a coordinated effort to tackle this problem including increased state attention to this issue,” Garver added.
Full Report Texans For Clean Water Litter Cost Study 2017