Surrey counters illegal dumping problem with free junk drop-off events

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WATCH: Surrey is looking to curb illegal dumping with several city programs, including a free junk drop-off event that's proving immensely popular. Grace Ke reports.

How do you solve a problem like illegal dumping?

It’s an issue Surrey has faced for years, as residents take to the streets, parks and rural areas to dump their unwanted items and trash to avoid costly disposal fees. A page on the city’s website even breaks down the ill effects it can have on the city.

For city staff, the solution was simple: make dumping free, if only for one day.

READ MORE: Vancouver has a $2M illegal dumping problem, and it’s only getting worse

Sunday saw the latest pop-up junk drop-off event at the Surrey Operations Centre in Newton, where people could bring whatever they wanted to get rid of to be disposed at no cost.

Cars lined up for blocks to get into the popular event, which was started in 2016 and has been held four times per year in the spring and summer since then.

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“When we first launched it we were getting about 1,100 to 1,200 vehicles,” the city’s solid waste manager Harry Janda said. “The past few events we’ve been getting up to 1,900 vehicles, so more people are finding out about it and getting educated.”

WATCH: (Aired Aug. 29, 2018) The huge cost of illegal dumping

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The huge cost of illegal dumping

Despite the long lineups, Janda said allowing residents to come to one place with all their trash is better for everyone.

“We would rather have people bring their materials at this event than have our own staff go out to collect that material from curbside or ditches or dead ends that are found illegally dumped,” he said.

It’s just one of the initiatives Surrey has undertaken to reduce illegal dumping by 50 per cent by 2020. So far, the city has reached a 30 per cent reduction.

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READ MORE: Bags filled with asbestos dumped in Burnaby alley

“Our costs were just over a million dollars per year for illegal dumping, but since we brought in the pop-up drop-off program and other programs, we were able to bring that down,” Janda said. “These events cost about $300,000 for the year, so it’s a significant reduction.”

In the 1990s, the city allowed residents to pile anything they wanted on the curbside for free removal. But the program was shuttered in 2004, leaving homeowners to deal with private companies charging ever-increasing prices.

The city has since reintroduced curbside pickups, but on a smaller scale: up to four large items can be removed for free by appointment at any time, any day of the year.

READ MORE: Township of Langley campaign targets ‘IDIOTS’ who dump garbage illegally

A year-round drop-off facility for the Metro Vancouver region is also in the planning stages.

Other programs also drive home that not everything that’s broken is worth throwing away.

A repair cafe allows people to bring bikes and other items to get repaired and gives lessons on how to maintain them, while September’s Reuse event will see reusable items dropped off for other residents to pick up.

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WATCH: (Aired Nov. 28, 2016) Illegal dumping whistle-blower app unveiled in B.C.

Click to play video 'Illegal dumping whistle-blower app unveiled in B.C.' Illegal dumping whistle-blower app unveiled in B.C.
Illegal dumping whistle-blower app unveiled in B.C.

Janda said the increased focus on allowing people to drop off their items to a convenient location has been well received.

“It’s been very successful,” he said. “I think people appreciate it, and we’ve seen a significant spike compared to previous years.”

If residents spot an illegal dumping site, they’re urged to call the city’s hotline to report it to staff.

—With files from Grace Ke