Fly dumping endangers wildlife and people, damages natural areas
Piles of crumbling asphalt, disassembled and busted furniture, and mini mountains of used tires; these are scenes one might expect to see at a landfill. But for some Forest Preserves of Cook County visitors, unsightly—and dangerous—heaps of illegally dumped trash disrupt an otherwise serene natural landscape.
To combat fly dumping, the Forest Preserves Board of Commissioners increased the maximum fine that can be imposed upon individuals or companies who are cited for this illegal activity at the June board meeting. Starting August 1, citations for fly dumping in the Forest Preserves will now result in fines up to $750 per violation plus any costs to properly dispose of the waste and restore damaged habitat. Additional punitive measures may also include Cook County code violations as well as civil or criminal prosecution.
Fly dumping—the act of dumping waste on private or public property without a permit—has long been an issue in the Forest Preserves, causing environmental, safety and aesthetic concerns.
“Fly dumping is no small issue in the Forest Preserves,” explains General Superintendent Arnold Randall. “Between 2020 and 2022, the Forest Preserves saw 2,331 reported fly dumping instances, and between 2019 and 2021 the tonnage of collected fly dumping waste surpassed the tonnage of trash generated by typical Forest Preserves visitors.”
The refuse collected from fly dumping costs Cook County taxpayers, who have been subsidizing the fees paid for proper removal and disposal of waste materials, as well as the cost to repair any damage caused.
“Although the tonnage of fly dumped waste collected went down in 2022, the Forest Preserves still paid significant costs to address the issue. Disposal costs doubled, and we spent approximately 642 work hours to properly remove and dispose of these materials,” explains Alma Arias, the Forest Preserves’ director of landscape maintenance.
Beyond the cost of removal and repair, fly dumping also harms the plants and animals that depend on the Forest Preserves’ healthy habitats, while also potentially releasing harmful toxins and chemicals into the air, soil and local waterways.
“Wildlife can consume waste, and toxins can leach into the surrounding environment. Some waste items can also impede a natural area’s ability to collect stormwater runoff, or even make its way into waterbodies and contaminate our rivers, lakes and streams,” Randall says.
How Can the Public Help?
For those visiting a forest preserve who suspect fly dumping, there are ways to help combat this costly and damaging illegal activity:
- Keep eyes open for suspicious activity in remote forest preserve locations
- Record license plate number of suspected fly dumpers
- Report fly dumping as soon as it’s observed to the Forest Preserves non-emergency number: 708-771-1000
- When in doubt, report it anyways
About the Forest Preserves of Cook County
Don’t you sometimes just want to escape? Explore the natural beauty of Cook County for an hour, a day or even a night. When you’re surrounded by 70,000 acres of wild and wonderful there’s no better place to feel free.