A Visual Exploration of Illegal Dumping on Public Lands in Rural Americaby
Kenneth H. Laundra, Ph.D.
Department of Behavioral and Social Sciences
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“What people do about their ecology depends on what they think about themselves
in relation to things around them."
This study examines a commonly overlooked form of criminal activity in
the countryside – the act of illegally dumping piles of waste materials onto
public lands. After a visual examination of the various types of debris that
are commonly dumped in these areas, consideration is given to the attitudes,
motives and rationalizations that lead to the act of dumping. This study attempts to contextualize this
activity within the framework of environmental sociology (Hannigan 1995),
emphasizing how attitudes about the natural environment, but also how the
physical environment itself, can affect the propensity to dump. This study
employs the more specific and quantifiable activity of illegal dumping piles of
debris onto public lands in order to more clearly distinguish this activity
from similar or related criminal enterprises that occur in rural America;
however, it is important to note that the deviant element of this activity is
central to the investigation. More specifically, the extent to which this
criminal activity is viewed (by either the perpetrator or the community) as
deviant has bearing on whether the activity is discouraged, whether penalties
or alternatives are provided, the extent and frequency of this activity and,
arguably, whether or not illegal dumping occurs in the first place. Finally,
solutions to the problems posed by illegal dumping are considered in terms of
wiser public policy informed by these social scientific findings.