What is Arizona Border Trash?

Border trash refers to items discarded by persons involved in illegal border crossings, such as plastic containers, clothing, backpacks, foodstuffs, vehicles, bicycles and paper. Human waste and medical products have also been found in border trash.

Characterizing the Impact

Accumulated border trash has been shown to affect public health, the environment and economic well-being.

Impacts include:

  • Strewn trash and piles
  • Illegal trails and paths
  • Erosion and watershed degradation
  • Damaged infrastructure and property
  • Loss of vegetation and wildlife
  • Campfires and escaped fires
  • Abandoned vehicles and bicycles
  • Vandalism, graffiti and site damage (historical and archaeological)
  • Occurrence of bio-hazardous waste

Quantifying the Impact

Apprehensions of illegal border crossers by the U.S. Border Patrol vary every year, and the data doesn’t reflect those who were not caught.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection Stats and Summaries | View >

Past cleanups by organizations, such as the BLM and Tohono O'odham Nation, estimate that border crossers leave approximately six to eight pounds of trash in the desert during their journey. The cost of disposing of this trash could be high for local communities. Landfill fees range from $24 to $64 per ton in Southern Arizona. These fees do not include costs for materials, equipment, labor and transportation for the collection and transfer of the trash to the landfill.

Learn about past cleanups | View >

Distinguishing Border Trash from Illegal Dumping

Disposal of waste at any location that has not been approved by an authorized agency to accept waste is illegal. Consideration should be made when deciding whether the waste is border trash or related to other illegal dumping activities. The content of these waste streams usually differ. Illegal dumping waste often consists of household garbage, construction debris, appliances or electronics; hazardous chemicals in drums or containers can also be encountered. Sometimes, illegal dumping can be comingled with border trash. This website is designed strictly for border trash cleanups; although some resources may be helpful for cleanups of any kind. .


The Arizona Border Trash Web site is a tool to inform stakeholders about conducting and documenting border trash cleanups. Data collected through this Web site is for the sole purpose of summarizing cleanup events. Please note that for personal safety, interested volunteers should coordinate with a governmental entity leading a cleanup event. Local law enforcement, first responders or other appropriate entity, along with cleanup organizers, should be contacted directly to report potentially criminal, medical or other urgent situations. This website was designed for use with Internet Explorer 9. If you experience any issues, try using a different browser.