Illegal Dumping: Insights from the community

Illegal dumping – the act of leaving large volumes of litter and waste in public areas – is an environmental issue that affects communities worldwide. Our National Litter Audit in 2022 saw a large increase in the estimated volume of illegal dumping nationally (4.45 ltrs  vs. 1.31 ltrs per 1,000 m² in 2019), and with increasing costs of living as well as spiking disposal fees at transfer stations nationwide, the problem is expected to get worse.

To gain insights into the extent of this problem in Aotearoa and the tools available to address it, we conducted a survey into the perceptions, experiences, and attitudes of Kiwis toward this pressing issue. Here, we’ll summarise the key findings from the survey, shedding some light on the experiences of individuals regarding illegal dumping in their communities.


First up, we want to extend our thanks to everyone who participated in our Illegal Dumping Survey. We had a good turnout of people of all ages, from across the country, give their voice to the issue, and to contribute to additional research we’re carrying out into the root causes of illegal dumping.

The Extent of the Problem

Over two-thirds of the 133 survey respondents saw illegal dumping as a moderate or severe problem in their local area. Additionally, 56.8% of respondents had personally witnessed acts of illegal dumping in the last 12 months, finding large volumes of waste in a public area in their community or even witnessing the dumping happening.

With respondents from across the country, it shows that the issue remains prevalent nationwide.

The resolve to report

The results of our Illegal Dumping Survey reveal that Kiwis have a low tolerance for illegal dumping, regardless of where it occurs. When asked how likely the respondent would be to report someone they saw illegally dumping in certain locations:

  • 84% of respondents would likely report it if they saw household goods (appliances, TVs, toys, furniture) being dumped in a park, reserve or riverbed
  • 8% would likely report general household waste being dumped in parks and reserves; and
  • 8% would likely report if they came across illegal dumping in bushland or a national park.

In urban areas, 61.6% would likely report if they saw someone leaving household goods on the street, carpark or footpath, and 71.0% if they saw someone leaving large amounts of general household waste – rubbish, food scraps and packaging waste for example – anywhere other than a bin.

Sadly only 21.6% of respondents would report someone leaving household items outside a charity shop after opening hours, even though such actions do technically constitute illegal dumping. Most out-of-office “donations” to op shops turn out to be junk that wouldn’t be accepted by op shop staff – and often, even if it is an item that could be saleable, such items are damaged by overnight weather, rodents or vandals. Much of this illegally dumped merchandise has to be disposed of in the store’s waste skip at great expense to the charities.

This suggests that awareness and education about what constitutes illegal dumping are areas that require further attention.

Reporting channels

When it comes to reporting illegal dumping, our survey found that respondents would overwhelmingly turn to their local or regional councils for advice or to make a report. If necessary, 11.8% were willing to contact Police if the situation warranted it.

Most respondents would contact their council either by phone, via an online form, or visit their local council office to report instances of illegal dumping.

Thankfully, councils across New Zealand are usually quick to act. Over three-quarters of survey respondents noted that it was easy to report any instances of illegal dumping, with 62.5% receiving rapid acknowledgement to their report of the offending littering. 46% of respondents said they noticed the illegally dumped waste being removed in a timely manner.

It shows councils across the motu recognise the issue and are keen to get on top of it, to keep their local communities beautiful.

Other key reporting facts:

  • A large number of respondents (30.16%) were aware of reporting tools, such as online forms and dedicated apps, that could be used to report illegal dumping.
  • Most respondents became aware of these tools through their local councils (61.9%) and friends or family (44.74%), indicating that community and local government outreach play a vital role in spreading awareness.
  • A majority of respondents (60.8%) expressed a high likelihood of reporting an illegal dumping incident if they witnessed one, underlining their commitment to addressing the problem.

Empowering change

If you see illegal dumping in your local area, it’s sometimes easy to look the other way. In fact, 55.6% of respondents to our Illegal Dumping Survey – the ones who spotted illegally dumped waste – didn’t go on to report it, either thinking that someone else reported it or not knowing how to make a report in the first place. However, research shows that reporting illegal dumping can help make a difference in curbing this behaviour.

For those who had witnessed illegal dumping incidents but didn’t report them, the survey identified several reasons, including the belief that someone else would report it (45.7%), difficulty stopping to take down necessary details (54.3%), and a perception of inconvenience or difficulty in the reporting process (37.1%).

Here’s the encouraging bit: most respondents felt that making a report was a good way to get people to stop dumping waste illegally, and those who did make a report often saw rapid action from their local council. And once you’ve made a report about illegal dumping, it’s easier and quicker to do it again – over 93% agreed that they’d be likely to report any further illegal dumping in future, highlighting the empowerment that comes from taking action.

Resources for reporting

We believe that tackling illegal dumping is a collective responsibility. To make reporting easier, you can find resources to report illegal dumping in your area online. Simply search for your local council’s website and ‘report illegal dumping’ on Google. Most councils also operate local hotlines for reporting. Together, we can work toward a cleaner and more beautiful New Zealand.

Ultimately, the fight against illegal dumping requires a collective effort from communities, local councils, and governments to preserve the beauty and cleanliness of our shared spaces.

If your local council is signed up to the Snap Send Solve app, you can report them quickly and easily:

*Disclaimer: The survey results represent the views and experiences of the survey respondents and do not necessarily reflect the views or stance of Keep New Zealand Beautiful.*

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