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They're the RID squad, and illegal dumpers ... they're coming for you

ON THE CASE: Regional Coordinator Rob Robertson and Maitland Officer Peter White at Melville Ford, a dumping hot spot. Picture Marina Neil.
ON THE CASE: Regional Coordinator Rob Robertson and Maitland Officer Peter White at Melville Ford, a dumping hot spot. Picture Marina Neil.

For most of us, picking through rubbish would be every bit as appealing as a trip to the dentist.

But to Rob Robertson, it's the starting point, a ritual that is done without question.

Rob is the Coordinator of the Hunter/Central Coast Regional Illegal Dumping Squad - a small team of eight whose job it is to catch illegal dumpers across the region.

Their patch ranges from the Central Coast to Lake Macquarie, Cessnock and Maitland. When asked to assist they'll also help out in Dungog, Singleton, Muswellbrook and the Upper Hunter.

That's a lot of area for such a small team but they're dogged and their strike rate impressive.

I'm speaking with Rob because just a couple of days earlier a 25-year-old Rutherford woman had been fined $4000 and had to pay for clean up after a pile of rubbish had been dumped at Melville Ford - a local "hot spot" for dumpers.

The RID project has been in existence in NSW for about 15 years, but the Hunter squad is quite new, formed only in 2014, with funding coming from the state's Environment Protection Authority and nine councils in the region.

"Our main source of information is from the public," Rob says. "People who do the right thing get pretty upset when they see people who clearly don't care and can't be bothered.

'"So we tend to be fed a lot of information. It also helps if they can take a picture so we know exactly what we're dealing with."

Which brings us to going through the rubbish. That's the first step.

Rob still can't believe that some people will put envelopes with their names and addresses in their dumped rubbish.

In those cases more often than not it's as easy as reading the name and address on the envelope and they've got their culprit - case closed.

"I wish it was always as straight forward as that, but it's not," Rob says. "Sometimes they will have paid a contractor to remove rubbish, so they're not at fault."

The scene officers found at melville Ford that resulted in a Rutherford woman being fined $4000.

The scene officers found at melville Ford that resulted in a Rutherford woman being fined $4000.

At other times getting the right person can be the result of months of painstaking work and detailed scientific analysis.

"We solved a case recently where it took about 10 months in total on the Central Coast. In the end we basically had to forensically match paint taken from dumped asbestos to a house, and show that it was the exact same paint."

One of the more common arguments is that inflated tip fees are one of the keys reason people choose to dump their rubbish.

And while it sounds feasible, it's not one Rob accepts at all.

"Look, we intervene with hundreds of dumpers, and from our experience the cost of tip fees doesn't really add up," he says.

Illegal dumpers have to plan for it, they have to drive somewhere to drop it, and they know it's wrong. They're choosing to do it

Rob Robertson

"There's a Pandora's box of excuses why they do it. But in my view, it's because they're lazy.

"But the one thing that is obvious to us its that dumpers come in all shapes and forms.

"We fined that young woman at Rutherford the other day, this week I fined a Cliftleigh man $2000 who cleaned out his mother's unit in Cessnock then dumped it all in the Hunter Economic Zone.

"We've fined a professor, we've fined a local councillor, a first grade NRL player.

"They're not all struggling for money and can't afford the fees. Besides, why not just put a bit in your bin each week and get rid of it legally. That was there's no risk of a fine whatsoever.

"Illegal dumping is an offence that is almost impossible to happen accidentally. They have to plan for it, they have to drive somewhere to drop it, and they know it's wrong. They're choosing to do it."

The numbers are staggering: in the last year alone they had 1495 reports of illegal dumping: three a week.

Somehow, using the bin sounds a whole lot easier.

This story Illegal dumping: meet the man who's out to catch you first appeared on The Maitland Mercury.