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A Christchurch City Council spokesperson said fly-tipping was becoming an increasing concern.
He estimated the city council spent $660,000 to clear illegal dumping last year but did not issue any fines or undertake any prosecutions.
They can either slap someone with a $400 fine and hope it gets paid, or take the perpetrator to court.
Gisborne councillors are calling for changes to the Litter Act 1979 to give local authorities more tools to deal with "fly-tippers".
In situations where the council can prove who dumped the rubbish, they want perpetrators to pay the removal cost without having to go through a court prosecution.
Councillor Kerry Worsnop, who brought the issue to the council table this week, acknowledged some people were fly-tipping because they could not afford council dump fees, but said that was not always the case.
"There are also people dumping building waste - there are people who are not acting responsibly in our region and should know better," she said.
"At the moment there are no repercussions because everyone knows they're never going to get a fine."
Gisborne District Council spent $87,000 clearing illegal rubbish in 2020. It made a fraction of that cost back from 11 fines of $400.
The cost of clearing illegal rubbish in Gisborne was down significantly from 2018 when the council spent $179,000.
Wellington City Council estimated illegal dumping cost $200,000 a year but a spokesperson said it did not issue any fines last year, largely because of its educational approach and "three-tier warning system".
Auckland Council estimated litter and illegal dumping cost ratepayers more than $1 million in removal costs in 2018.
Worsnop has prepared a remit on the issue which Mayor Rehette Stoltz will take to other councils before it can progress to Local Government New Zealand.
"I take on board a lot of the staff comments in that it is not necessarily an answer, it's not going to potentially eliminate the problem," Worsnop said.
"You really only need one case where we go 'thanks for the rubbish, we've cleaned it up and now here is your $1200 bill'.
"Suddenly you have people actually thinking about what it costs when you do something like that."
While most councillors spoke in support of the remit at the extraordinary council meeting on Thursday, councillor Shannon Dowsing did not. He was "cynical" about what would get traction at the local government level.
"It's already acknowledged by our staff how difficult it is to identify the perpetrator ... I think putting additional recycling receptacles in some of our neighbourhoods instead of seeing it all dumped down the side road, those are solutions the council can take that can have an immediate impact, whereas this is asking someone else to solve a problem with a mechanism that we don't even know will work.
"I don't think this is the way for us to go forward. I think we can be smarter about how we approach rubbish in general."
Councillor Meredith Akuhata-Brown questioned whether the council had other options, such as making dump costs more affordable.
"When I look at this issue, I think back to a whole framework of why we get to this point where people can't afford to dispose of their waste appropriately."
She recalled a campaign during her childhood that encouraged people to "be a tidy Kiwi", and suggested they might need the return of simple, strong messages.
"I don't see those messages around as much any more. They're quite simple but they had a profound impact on us kids growing up ..."
Stoltz said it wasn't the "silver bullet" but it might work as another tool alongside education.
Councillors voted in favour of the remit.
Stoltz will see if she can garner support at a regional forum attended by 19 other councils later this month.
If the other councils support the remit, she will take it to the Local Government New Zealand annual general meeting in July to ask the body to advocate on the issue.
By Alice Angeloni
Local Democracy Reporter
- Local Democracy Reporting is a public interest news service supported by RNZ, the News Publishers' Association and NZ On Air.