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Forest Preserves of Cook County raises fines for illegal dumping

“Fly dumping” endangers wildlife and people, damages natural areas

COOK COUNTY, Ill. (July 19, 2023) – Piles of crumbling asphalt, disassembled and busted furniture, and mountains of used tires — these are conditions people might expect to find at a landfill. But for some Forest Preserves of Cook County visitors, unsightly and dangerous heaps of illegally dumped trash disrupt the natural landscape and pose potential health hazards.

According to the City of Chicago website, the term “fly dumping” refers to “illegal dumping of any waste material on public or private property without a permit from the Department of Public Health.” It differs from littering in the size or amount of material dumped.

In an effort to discourage fly dumping, the Forest Preserves Board of Commissioners increased the maximum fine for the violation at their June board meeting. Starting August 1, dumpers can be fined up to $750 per violation in addition to any costs of properly disposing of the waste and restoring the damaged habitat. Additional punitive measures may also include Cook County code violations as well as civil or criminal prosecution.

Costs of fly dumping

“Fly dumping is no small issue in the Forest Preserves,” explained 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.”

Not only does fly dumping cause environmental, safety, and aesthetic concerns, but collecting the refuse also costs Cook County taxpayers. Tax dollars subsidize 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,” explained Alma Arias, the Forest Preserves’ director of landscape maintenance.

Fly dumping 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.

What the public can do

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 the license plate number of suspected fly dumpers
  • Report fly dumping as soon as it’s observed by calling the Forest Preserves non-emergency number: 708-771-1000
  • When in doubt, report it anyway

In Lansing, residents who enjoy walking Thorn Creek Trail have encountered littering more often than fly dumping. In addition to notifying Forest Preserve personnel, they also organize their own clean-up efforts, filling garbage bags with the trash they find, particularly along Stony Island.

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Melanie Jongsma
Melanie Jongsma
Melanie Jongsma grew up in Lansing, Illinois, and believes The Lansing Journal has an important role to play in building community through trustworthy information.