Post-lockdown survey shows improvements in towns but cities slip

19 Oct 2021

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The first post-lockdown survey by Irish Business Against Litter has shown the majority of our towns have cleaned up over the past 12 months. However, litter in our main cities has worsened to levels not seen in ten years. Portlaoise emerged as cleanest of the 40 areas surveyed nationwide, but Dublin’s North Inner City was at the foot of the rankings, the only area to be branded a ‘litter blackspot’. The study found no fall-off in PPE litter across the country.

The number of areas deemed clean by An Taisce, who carry out the survey on behalf of IBAL, rose from 17 to 23. In all, 68% of towns showed an improvement on last year. Portlaoise, which was at the very foot of the table back in 2010, topped the rankings, an achievement praised by An Taisce as the result of “years of concerted effort and steady improvement“. It finished ahead of Leixlip and past winner Ennis. Notable improvement was seen in Tipperary town and in Carlow and Longford, which were both ‘Cleaner than European Norms’.

IBAL’s Conor Horgan commented: “With local authority cleaning schedules normalising again and volunteer groups re-engaged in clean-ups across the country, our towns are almost as clean as 2 years ago. This is still some way short of where they were in 2014, however.”

By contrast, the majority of urban areas fared worse than in 2020, among them Dublin, Cork and Limerick City Centres, which were all deemed ‘littered’. Only Galway and Dublin’s Tallaght and Ballymun registered significant year-on-year improvement.

A bleak picture for cities

All but one of the bottom 10 places in the rankings were occupied by urban areas. “For cities, this survey paints a bleak picture,” comments Conor Horgan.  “Litter levels have worsened to a level we have not seen in the past ten years. Now that we have emerged from lockdown, we cannot use it as an excuse for high levels of litter.

“As we invest in promotional drives and build city hotels in anticipation of more visitors, we need to be mindful of the littered environment we are presenting to them.”

For the first time since 2014, Dublin’s North Inner City was deemed a litter blackspot. Of the 25 sites in the area surveyed, only 2 were found to be clean, and 17 were ‘heavily littered’ or worse. Among these were the ESB site at Sheriff St Lr., Ossory Road, where “sacks of rubbish had been abandoned, along with piles and piles of accumulations of litter”, Aldborough Place, which was subject to dumping, the Canal Walk, where “heavy levels of food and alcohol related items had been discarded in the canal” and the Canal at Spencer Dock, where “bicycles, railings and industrial rubbish” were among the litter found.

“We had seen a gradual if unspectacular clean-up of the North Inner City over the past seven years, but recent surveys suggest this has unravelled. Nearby Ballymun has improved a lot in the past 24 months – why can’t the same happen in this area?”

Continued Rise in Covid-related litter

The study showed a near-30% increase in the prevalence of PPE masks on our streets and an increase in alcohol-related litter such as cans and bottles.

“The need for PPE has not abated – unfortunately we’re still using disposable masks, we’re still dropping them at an alarming rate and they are still not being picked up,“ says Conor Horgan. “We are consuming more outdoors and this is translating into more food- and drink-related litter.” Despite this, the survey showed a 20% drop in coffee cup litter. There was also a steep fall-off in cigarette butts.

IBAL was once again critical of the failure of local authorities to address sites which they have previously highlighted as heavily littered, especially in urban areas. Of the 103 such sites exposed last year, fewer than half have been cleaned up in 2021.

2021 is the 19th year of the IBAL Anti-Litter League.

Set up in 1996, Irish Business Against Litter is an alliance of companies sharing a belief that continued economic prosperity – notably in the areas of tourism, food and direct foreign investment – is contingent on a clean, litter-free environment.

As part of the IBAL Anti-Litter League, An Taisce monitors towns independently and in accordance with international grading standards.