The second nationwide litter survey by business group Irish Business Against Litter (IBAL) since the Covid-19 pandemic reveals a continued rise in litter levels across the country, with further increases in PPE and coffee cup litter in particular. Kilkenny topped the rankings for 2020 for a record 5th time, while Ballymun and Dublin’s North Inner City were both seriously littered. For the first time in 13 years, fewer than half of the towns surveyed were deemed clean.
In all, litter levels rose in 24 of the 37 towns and cities inspected by An Taisce at the end of 2020, resulting in only 17 being judged to be clean – a fall of over 25% on last summer and in sharp contrast to just 3 years ago, when 80% were clean. Retaining its title from last year, Kilkenny won out over Killarney, Ennis and Tullamore at the top of the IBAL table.
Praising Kilkenny in its report, An Taisce commented: “There is surely a lesson in this result for other towns – while the majority of towns have deteriorated during Covid, Kilkenny has been maintained in pristine condition.” The High Street, River Nore Walk and grounds of Kilkenny Castle were all “excellent with regard to not just litter, but overall presentation”.
According to IBAL, the survey results are consistent with a trend in recent years. “The decline in cleanliness is less a case of the poorer areas getting worse, but of previously clean towns slipping to littered,” says IBAL spokesperson Conor Horgan. “Covid is clearly a factor here, but we should never accept litter as inevitable. It comes down to people disposing of their waste without regard for their surroundings or their fellow citizens and it is entirely unnecessary.”
One explanation for the rise in litter lies in the restrictions surrounding cleaning services during the pandemic. “While council workers have not been on the streets as much as normal, the general public has been spending more time than ever out of doors,” says Mr Horgan. There was a sharp rise in the amounts of litter on approach roads to towns, reflecting the fact that the benign winter has seen masses of people out walking. “Ironically, too many of them are showing a shameful disregard for the environment they are enjoying.”
Coffee cups were among the most prevalent litter types found, while there was another rise in glass bottles and cans, suggesting that outdoor drinking has not waned over the winter months. The survey also showed that the second half of 2020 brought a further increase in PPE-related litter, primarily masks. “8 months into the pandemic, we would have hoped people would have moved to reusable masks with a resulting fall in mask-related litter. In fact, we are seeing more and more of them ending up our streets,” says Mr Horgan.
Heavily littered sites ‘getting worse’
The report highlighted a continued rise in the number of blackspots in towns and cities. IBAL was once again critical of the failure of local authorities to address sites that had been identified in previous surveys as heavily littered. 36 such sites were revisited in this latest survey, yet only 11% were found to have been cleaned up and more than a quarter had actually worsened. Among the worst sites were Dry Dock in Dublin’s IFSC, Balbutcher Lane in Ballymun, where “there was litter everywhere“, and St Patrick’s Park in Navan which again suffered from “a very large dumping problem”. Ballybane Village in Galway “wasn’t just casually littered but subject to dumping”.
“With restrictions on time and resources, local authorities need to be more selective in their cleaning efforts,” says Mr Horgan. “Too many sites are persistently littered. It is disheartening that yet again our work in reporting them is falling on deaf ears.”
Reluctance to pick up litter
According to IBAL, the reluctance among civic-minded people to pick up litter during the pandemic may carry long term consequences. “While people have certainly become more attuned to their natural surroundings and more conscious of how litter can spoil those surroundings, this is offset by an understandable unwillingness to pick up waste for fear of contamination. As the pandemic endures, and with it the sensitivity around touching items, people may simply get out of the habit of picking up other people’s litter. We risk losing a civic behaviour which is vital in keeping our country clean.” concludes Mr Horgan.