The Dump:

A Visual Exploration of Illegal Dumping on Public Lands in Rural America

Kenneth H. Laundra, Ph.D.
Department of Sociology & Organizational Leadership
Millikin University

About the Study

These images were taken between 2003-present and represent a wide range of illegal dumping sites across the country (Michigan, Utah, Washington, and Oregon). After hundreds of these sites were visited and photographed, five distinct types of dumping grounds emerged.

Scholarship related to "garbology," environmental attitudes, deep ecology, environmental identity, and environmental criminology is discussed in the essay.

This pile was discovered in a county park along the Umpqua River in Winchester, Oregon. Upon further investigation, it was discovered that the pile was legally placed there by the county as a "historic and common practice." (see full e-mail here).


“What people do about their ecology depends on what they think about themselves

in relation to things around them."

-Lynn White

            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.