Over the last decade, residents, state, and local leaders have been working to better Camden by making it safer, attracting new businesses, improving schools, and building better infrastructure. Our goal is to give Camden’s 74,000 residents an opportunity to move up the economic ladder and to create a beautiful, healthy physical environment. We have a long way to go, but the progress we have made to date is tangible and meaningful.
Yet, we keep encountering one roadblock: illegal dumping. Too many people and companies are leaving large amounts of household or industrial waste at remote locations or abandoned properties instead of a landfill. It is a persistent and expensive problem for Camden.
It is not unusual to collect more than 43,000 tons of debris — including trash, tires, and electronics — from illegal dumping sites in Camden each year. That is thousands of trucks’ worth of illegally dumped trash. This year alone, we have identified roughly 58 illegal dumping grounds throughout the city.
That’s why we support a bill in the New Jersey General Assembly — sponsored by one of us (Assemblyman Bill Moen) — that would increase penalties for illegal dumping.
No child should be forced to play alongside bags of trash. No resident should have to stare at old tires and couches carelessly discarded throughout their neighborhoods. Illegal dumping gives Camden a terrible impression to drivers passing through from other communities in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
Not only does illegal dumping make it difficult to keep our community beautiful, it also endangers residents’ health and the environment while making neighborhoods less safe. Illegal dumpsites are rife with dangerous, flammable materials, and can attract other criminal activity. If not properly addressed, the waste can contaminate water, harm local wildlife, and cause dangerous flooding.
Camden taxpayers spend at least $4 million each year to deal with waste illegally disposed of throughout the city. We are installing cameras to catch people illegally dumping, developing a reporting tool for residents, and erecting physical barriers to prevent dumping.
This spring, the city also used a $1 million grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies to place art installations — such as large sculptures — around the city to highlight the issue of illegal dumping.
These are all important efforts, but we need stronger deterrents.
Assemblyman Moen’s bill doubles fines for anyone who disposes of a large quantity of waste or brings it anywhere other than an official solid waste facility. The new fines would be no less than $5,000 for a first offense and up to $10,000 for a second offense. All subsequent offenses would be subject to fines of up to $20,000.
The bill would also make someone who illegally dumps waste liable to the property owner for three times the damages, cleanup costs, and other fees incurred as a result of their actions. (Right now, dumpers are on the hook for these costs only if they leave waste on the property of a railroad company.) In addition to financial penalties, the legislation would also increase the amount of mandatory community service that can be assigned to violators.
Illegal dumping simply will not be tolerated in Camden, or anywhere else in our state. It’s far past time for people to understand that they cannot pollute someone else’s neighborhood and leave them to deal with the mess.
In the meantime, we will continue our efforts to counteract this blight on our community and raise awareness about the harms of illegal dumping. Camden deserves better.
Bill Moen is a member of the New Jersey General Assembly, representing residents of Camden and Gloucester Counties. Gabe Rodriguez is the police chief of Camden County. Dana Redd is the former mayor of Camden and chair of Cooper’s Ferry Partnership, a nonprofit working for the growth and preservation of a vibrant Camden.