We often think of littering and illegal dumping as minor misdemeanors, yet they carry a very real cost. 

New research from the Environmental Services Association Education Trust suggests that "waste crime" costs the U.K. government half a billion pounds (about $750 million) every year. Whether it's a contractor dumping trash in a back alley to avoid landfill fees, or a company operating in the black market for hazardous waste processing, waste crimes result in significant clean-up costs and lost tax revenue, not to mention environmental and health impacts that taxpayers end up paying for.

Here's how The Guardian reported on the research

Barry Dennis, a trustee of the ESAET charity, said: "We need to stop thinking about 'waste crime' as somehow being less important than other crimes. Fly-tipping [illegal dumping], rogue waste operations and tax evasion via the misclassification of waste are crimes that create health risks for the public, are costing the taxpayer millions of pounds a year and are funding organised crime."
It's a theme that we've seen elsewhere in the world too. In Naples, Italy, the mafia is deeply involved with trash rackets and toxic waste disposal. And toxic waste dumping has been linked to the piracy problem in Somalia

Fortunately, many authorities appear to be stepping up enforcement efforts. In Illinois, for example, illegal dumping is now a felony offense and we've seen gas drillers in Pennsylvania facing possible prison time for releasing wastewater into an abandoned oil well. Meanwhile in England, the picture is not quite so positive. The Environmental Protection Agency, which is responsible for fighting waste crime, is facing steep cuts and layoffs due to government austerity measures.  

Yet the importance of this issue is only likely to increase.

As more and more municipalities recognize the potential of trash metering to dramatically cut landfill waste, disposing of trash the responsible way becomes every more expensive. And rightly so. Sadly, there will always be those who seek to circumvent the system and not pay their fair share. Of course, technology, like the cameras used in Lorain County, Ohio, in the video below may help protect hotspots. Ultimately, however, if authorities want to cut their landfill costs, they'll have to invest in enforcing their rules, and that takes both political will and significant resources.

Related on MNN:

How 'waste crime' is costing governments millions
It's often thought of as a minor misdemeanor, but illegal dumping of trash has a real price tag, and it's often linked to organized crime.