Things are about to get a lot more messy for people who insist on littering and dumping garbage illegally in Lunenburg County.
In a move to give more bite to waste bylaws, earlier this year the Municipal Joint Services Board (MJSB) named Angela Taylor as its new Outreach and Compliance Officer.
With investigative training from the RCMP and the Department of Environment under her belt, and having been sworn in as a special constable under the Nova Scotia Police Act in March, Taylor will soon be donning a new uniform and hitting the streets as the MJSB's new garbage police.
Web cams are in place in illegal dumping "hot spots" on rural roads; more are on order.
And Taylor and the MJSB are keen to get the word out.
"You can be charged. There are large penalties for illegal dumping," she warns.
Rather than refer illegal dumpers to the Nova Scotia Department of Environment, Taylor can now directly act on infractions of the waste bylaws.
Acknowledging that anti-litter and dumping education campaigns in themselves were not working, and as a prelude to upping the ante on offenders, in 2014 the Municipality of the District of Lunenburg (MODL) and the towns of Bridgewater and Mahone Bay stiffened penalties for bylaw infractions to between $250 and $5,000, depending on the issue.
However, despite this, and even though those overseeing waste removal systems are beginning to have a clearer profile of garbage dumpers, solving the problem remains a muddy challenge.
Litter is proving to be a socio-economic and political quagmire.
And, in the short-term at least, it may be that the bulk of work in keeping our streets, highways and country roads clean will continue to fall on the shoulders of the squadrons of civic-minded volunteers who regularly don rubber gloves and carry garbage bags to pick up the rubbish left behind by others.
Muscle behind the message
As the MJSB's former outreach coordinator, Taylor has been training to become a special constable since 2010.
She received Level 1 and 2 RCMP training, as well as training through the Department of Environment and the Atlantic Bylaw Officers Association.
During that time, her job had her conducting spot-checks on businesses' waste handling systems, and curbside garbage. More often than not, when issues arose, she offered suggestions and advice.
In some cases, repeat offenders might have been penalized with reduced or withdrawn garbage removal. Only the cases of the more serious, repeat offenders, were referred to the Department of Environment for handling.
"I could ask people to do things in accordance with the bylaw, but if they chose not to there wasn't much I could do at that point," Taylor explained to LighthouseNOW.
Whereas now she is trained in how to gather evidence, take witness statements, lay charges and get packages together for possible prosecutions.
Still, Taylor doesn't see her approach changing dramatically on a day-to-day basis. She expects she still will be largely advising and educating people rather than working punitively.
"Because I know the public. They understand that this is an issue."
However, she draws a distinction between someone too lazy or unequipped with the knowledge or the means to separate their garbage and someone blatantly and regularly illegally disposing household and construction debris.
The web cams are focused on the latter.
But don't expect to spot them. There will be no notices on country roads alerting potential dumpers of the cameras. Taylor is happy to let people know they're out there, just not where.
Not only does she not want the units to be stolen, she says, "I want to catch who it is (doing the dumping.)"
Even then, her approach after catching any culprits is likely to be "case by case," says Taylor.
"It depends on the situation. I wouldn't want to charge someone for being evicted out of their apartment, they had nowhere to go and they just had to get rid of it and didn't know what to do."
Evictions and domestic disputes as well as criminal elements are often behind illegal garbage piles, according to research. So reports Valda Walsh, an environmental analyst and regional coordinator at Region 6 Solid Waste Management.
Region 6 is a non-profit group providing solid waste education and leadership to the towns of Windsor, Mahone Bay, Lunenburg, Bridgewater, Lockeport and Shelburne and the municipal districts of West Hants, Chester, Lunenburg, Region of Queens and Shelburne.
Walsh explains the difficulty in counting on education and awareness as a means of preventing illegal disposals.
"You can't put it on the radio and say, 'By the way, if you're stuck in a problem where you're being evicted, please don't dump your garbage in the woods.'"
Getting the message across is "a huge challenge," she says. "Definitely one that we're constantly struggling with."
According to Taylor, particularly in relation to littering, the time for talk is over and enforcement has to start.
"Because there hasn't been any. If you were to ask the RCMP or town police when was the last time you wrote a ticket for litter, I would be curious to see what their answer would be," she says.
But even Taylor concedes it's not easily done since the perpetrators practically need to be caught in the act.
Meanwhile, community organizations have been out in force trying to clean up after the fact.
MODL councillor Michael Ernst, who is a member of Region 6, says he's participated in about 10 such clean-ups, which have been organized by the Oakland Indian Point Residents Association, Blockhouse Area Ratepayers Kinship (BARK) and the Mahone Bay Lions Group.
"I just think it's important part of the community to take ownership. As a councillor, it's something I feel I should be doing, supporting community groups."
Moreover, he says, the garbage won't go away, and it's more likely to accumulate without action.
"If you keep your community cleaner, then there's less chance of litter happening," he suggested.
Ernst told LighthouseNOW the clean-ups often attract 20 to 25 volunteers at a time. He recalls one BARK clean-up alone collecting 50 bags of garbage.
While Walsh reports that the amount collected through Region 6's annual Earth Day Litter Challenge ranges from 3,000 to 5,000 kilograms.
Many clean-up groups operate under the Adopt A Highway Program, which provides gloves, safety vests, garbage bags, and highway safety signs.
The program is run by the Department of Transport, which agrees to haul away the piles of rubbish the groups are able to accumulate in a particular spot.
According to Ernst, it's not unusual to find old real estate and election signs, televisions, radios, refrigerators, plastic cigarillo ends, and baby diapers. The latter, he suggests, is "a common thing to put in a plastic bag and heave it out the window."
And then there is the omnipresent fast-food packaging.
"Tim Horton's is the majority," says Ernst.
The ultimate source
Ernst and other Region 6 members want to see the Nova Scotia government take a tougher stand on packaging. According to Walsh, it's time to change 20-year-old regulations by putting in extended producer responsibility (EPR), which is in place in a number of other provinces.
"With that, it does make the packagers responsible for all that packaging waste they're producing."
Reluctance on the part of the government to push on with the program is "political," according to Walsh, who insists the province has bowed to anti-EPR sentiments expressed by the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses.
"And of course this targets business," she concedes of the EPR program, but adds that it's not aimed at all businesses. "Not independent businesses, at all, actually. It doesn't target your ma-and-pop pizza store. But it does target the Walmarts and the Coscos of the world," says Walsh.
She agrees the lack of a packaging EPR program in Nova Scotia is ironic, considering the province was a leader in banning organics and food waste from landfill.
"A lot of provinces have never taken that step."
She says that's why Region 6 and its counterparts elsewhere in the province are trying to convince the provincial government to get everything else in place.
"Bring in EPR and we're back on the top of the pile again," said Walsh.