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Seeking solutions to the costly problem of illegal dumping of unusable items at charity stores challenged our assumptions

Charities rely on donations of second-hand clothes and other items to raise funds for good causes, but some receive a significant amount of unusable items dumped illegally on their doorsteps out of hours, which they are forced to dispose of at a significant cost.


Environment Protection Authority (EPA) Victoria, local councils, charities and the National Association of Charitable Recyclers needed evidence to test their assumptions of what would stop this problem from occurring, so they asked us to examine the underlying factors and design preventative interventions.


“Illegal dumping levels outside charity stores are a problem and charities are having to put more and more funding towards dealing with the resulting waste. We needed to research solutions that would work.” – Sally White, Group Manager, Strategic Partnerships, EPA

Our research approach


We wanted to test a number of options with different sized charity stores to try to reduce levels of illegal dumping and investigate any underlying factors that could be influencing the problem. We:


– tested specific interventions such as signs, sensor lighting, fencing and CCTV with a number of high street stores and large warehouses


– analysed waste-disposal data from before and after the intervention as an indicator of levels of illegal dumping


– investigated correlations between factors thought to influence illegal dumping levels (such as opening hours, store size and local community demographics) by analysing waste-disposal and store-specific data from a further 145 charity stores in Victoria.


Did anything work to reduce illegal dumping levels?


We found that waste levels at larger warehouse charity stores could be reduced by introducing fencing and signage informing people of the personal consequences (fines) of dumping.


The cost of installing these would, on average, be paid for by savings to waste-disposal costs over 17 months. For smaller charity stores, no single solution was effective at reducing the amount of illegal dumping. 


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When we explored factors thought to influence illegal dumping levels, we identified some unexpected relationships.


For example, community access to local waste-disposal services doesn’t impact on the level of waste from charity stores. In fact, stores located in communities with access to free waste-disposal services actually had a higher waste output than stores in other areas, indicating higher illegal dumping levels. 


These findings were not what the partners had initially assumed and reminded us that intervention and investment decisions shouldn’t be made on commonly-held assumptions but must be based on research and evidence.

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The chart shows that the installation of ‘fencing+sign’ led to a significant reduction in the weight of waste disposal at large warehouse stores over time compared to warehouses where no interventions took place.


The installation of ‘fencing+sign’ lead to a significant reduction in the weight of waste disposal at large warehouse stores over time compared to warehouses where no interventions took place.


Next steps


This research highlighted that the problem of illegal dumping outside many charity stores can’t be addressed by interventions at stores alone. We are now undertaking further research with local councils to explore the impact of public-facing information campaigns on illegal dumping levels.