Research Foundation Annual Report: Katherine Cushing, Jason DeHaan

Addressing Illegal Dumping

Cushing, DeHaan


An unsightly problem is on the rise in San José, afflicting many neighborhoods across the city: illegal dumping. In response to this growing issue, two research projects brought together several groups, including SJSU faculty and students, local residents, business owners and the City of San Jose.

The projects were developed under the umbrella of CommUniverCity San José, an innovative partnership between SJSU, the City of San José, and downtown neighborhoods. Each year, CommUniverCity spearheads forty to fifty neighborhood-based projects, helping build capacity for residents living in primarily immigrant, low-income communities to engage with their local and regional government.

The first project, directed by Sociology Lecturer Jason DeHaan, focused on community outreach. Students on the research team knocked on doors, attended neighborhood association meetings and other events, and distributed educational materials. These materials, provided in English, Spanish, and Vietnamese, included information on how to get support for large item disposal and how to report illegal dumping.

A second project, led by DeHaan and Katherine Cushing, SJSU Professor of Environmental Studies, researched the effectiveness of a program designed to help and support local businesses. Students developed, conducted, and analyzed surveys, revealing the extent and the expense of the illegal dumping problem. “We talked to business owners and managers and discovered that many had a lot of experience in dealing with dumping,” DeHaan says. “The two main impacts were the expenses associated with having the dumped items hauled away/picked up and the time it takes to clean up. Some businesses reported having unwanted bulky items dumped at their location regularly and actually having had to pay people to haul it away. Other interviewees reported that they had to pay employees to clean up the dumped material and that it would often fill their dumpsters early, requiring them to pay extra fees.”

Cushing credits CommUniverCity and its bridge building role as being central to bringing different groups together to combat illegal dumping. “The partnership between the City, the community, and the university is an incredibly important one,” she says. “It  connects people and institutions,allowing us to share resources and data in ways that wouldn’t be possible if we working on our own.”