A new kind of vigilantism is on the rise in Surrey and its biggest supporters are talking plenty of trash online.
For the past two months, Robert Rice and Greg Snurnitsyn have been working to identify illegal-dumping hotspots in the city, and encouraging people to share photos and videos of spots they find, in hopes the city will ramp up prevention, enforcement and cleanup.
The cleanliness crusaders have been gaining support online with their “TrashTalk” movement and soon plan to take the matter into their own hands by organizing weekend cleanup outings. Rice said they have received about 75 emails from people asking how they can help.
For the city’s part, it said its efforts to stop illegal dumping have been working, with both the rate and cost of the problem dropping close to 40 per cent since 2015.
But on Wednesday on 120th Street near Old Yale Road, Rice and Snurnitsyn had no trouble finding some recently dumped junk to help Postmedia understand what is troubling them.
Along the sidewalk, someone had hastily discarded a smashed-up door and trio of old dining chairs. Steps away, a duck paddled in filthy water in an empty lot which boasted a trio of soiled mattresses.
Rice, who owns the Beast Coast Authentic clothing brand and posts about illegal dumping on its Facebook and YouTube pages, said he travels around the city by bus and has seen a “trashpocalypse” on the streets, particularly in remote and industrial areas.
“The city is neglecting the garbage,” he said. “I can see it getting worse and it’s going on throughout the city.”
“We just want to break the stereotype that two wrongs make a right,” added Snurnitsyn, of Bin2GO. “If you see a bunch of mattresses, you don’t feel ashamed to dump your stuff right next to it.”
Both men said they believe that if the city does even more to discourage illegal dumping, residents will take more pride in making sure its streets, ditches and sidewalks stay clean.
“Maybe it’s time to focus on the entirety of the city and not just your city cores, and build the city to be the city of the future,” Rice said.
Rice and Snurnitsyn said they plan to soon arrange weekend cleanup outings with volunteers that would last a few hours. They would bag trash and junk, and pile it curb-side for the city to pick up later. They are asking local business for support by helping provide litter pickers, garbage bags and a sharps container or two.
“If you want to change the world, you have to start from your place, from your own backyard,” Snurnitsyn said.
“You have to clean it up. That’s how you clean even your mentality — you feel free.”
Harry Janda, solid waste manager for the city, said illegal dumping cost the city about $600,000 in 2019, down from $1 million in 2015. The number of incidents dropped to 6,000, down from 9,500.
Janda said Surrey is prone to illegal dumping in secluded areas like most large cities, but when staff get a complaint or service request, they send a cleanup crew within three days. Crews were cleaning up a spot on Wednesday in an industrial area south of the Pattullo Bridge that Rice and Snurnitsyn had been monitoring.
The dumping is “mainly at secluded areas where it’s dark, nobody can see them,” Janda said. “There’s also residents who are just placing materials out at their curb-side.”
To help stop this, the city recently expanded its curb-side collection program — which allows residents to dispose of large appliances, small household goods, barbecues and mattresses — to include more electronics, appliances, bicycles, tires and exercise equipment. It has been expanded to include apartment buildings, and the city will pick up six items per household each year, up from four, Janda said.
The city also hosts pop-up junk events four times each year.
Janda said the city previously tested surveillance cameras to catch dumpers, but they didn’t meet its needs. New cameras currently being tested have worked well and the city may install more once the pilot is complete.
People caught breaking the city’s rules against dumping can face a minimum fine of $500 and up to $10,000 to cover the city’s cleanup costs. Janda said they city issued just 10 fines last year and about 390 property cleanup notices.
Surrey isn’t the only Metro city troubled by illegal dumping.
A Metro Vancouver spokesman said member municipalities reported about 43,800 incidents of illegal dumping in 2018. The municipalities spent a combined $3.2 million on cleanup and disposal. Across the region, the number of incidents and cleanup costs had risen from 35,300 and $2.54 million in 2015.
In municipalities that experienced a decrease in illegal dumping, Metro credited increased monitoring, enhancing bulky item pick-up programs, and community material drop-off events.
Metro said residents can visit wasteinitsplace.ca to learn about disposal options, pop-up junk days and cleaning events, and get information on the services offered by member municipalities for large item disposal.