Litter levels on rise again with coffee cups replacing Covid-masks as scourge of Irish beaches

Study finds noticeable fall in cleanliness at Dublin’s Grand Canal Dock area that would not be ‘allowed persist in other European capitals’

The most common forms of litter are cigarette butts, sweet wrappers and plastic bottles, according to the survey. Photograph: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision

Litter levels are on the rise again, with coffee cups replacing Covid masks as a scourge of beaches and harbours across Ireland, according to a new survey.

It showed that only eight of the 33 areas monitored could be deemed “clean to European norms” with places branded “heavily littered” including Dublin’s Grand Canal Dock and Tolka River as well as Cork Harbour at Blackrock Castle.

The survey, commissioned by business group Irish Business Against Litter (IBAL) and conducted by An Taisce, said Dublin’s Grand Canal Dock was found to have “heavy levels of a wide variety of litter, both alcohol and food related... litter was both land-based and water-based and long-lie and short-lie”.

Commenting on this finding, IBAL’s Conor Horgan said “it jars to see the neglected state of an area which has been the subject of millions of euros of investment and attracts so many business visitors. I don’t believe this would be allowed persist in other European capitals.”

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Annesley Bridge at Fairview in Dublin was also deemed heavily littered with “very high levels of casually discarded food and alcohol items”, while “the river bed continues to harbour larger, long-lie items like shopping carts, scooters, clothing and traffic cones”.

Acknowledging the work of community groups at Blackrock Castle in Cork, An Taisce found “evidence of land-based dumping and miscellaneous items including car tyres, construction signage, a rubber dinghy and stroller”, which contributed to a “heavily littered” rating. White Bay beach near Roches Point in Cork was also found to be “heavily littered”.

The many popular beaches which have slipped to “moderately littered” status include Lahinch in Clare, Brittas Bay in Wicklow, Curracloe in Wexford, Portmarnock in Dublin, Strandhill in Galway, and Clogherhead in Louth.

Bundoran was again “littered”. By contrast, Salthill in Galway had improved significantly.

Mr Horgan said that “unfortunately the improvement observed at our beaches last year seems to have reversed this time round”. He said “we had hoped that the decline in Covid-related litter might bring an improvement in overall cleanliness, added to the fact that many who stay-cationed last year would have travelled abroad this summer. Our most popular beaches are not heavily littered, but they’re not as clean as they should be.”

The survey found there was a fall-off in Covid masks and gloves in litter and also in alcohol-related litter linked to lockdown. Coffee cups remained a significant litter item, however, present in half the areas surveyed. The most common forms of litter found by the assessors were cigarette butts, sweet wrappers and plastic bottles.

On the more positive side of things, areas deemed “clean to European standards” included the seafront at Bray, Co Wicklow; Killiney beach and Dún Laoghaire Harbour in Co Dublin; Keem beach in Achill and Old Head beach in Co Mayo; Mountshannon in Clare; as well as Salthill in Galway and Tramore in Waterford.

However, Kinsale in Cork and Dingle in Kerry had deteriorated to “littered” status, alongside Bantry in Cork and Loughrea, Co Galway. Improved areas include Dogs Bay in Galway and Castletownbere in Cork.

Alongside its impact on tourism and recreation, IBAL said coastal litter had grave implications for the future of our planet.

“Every day it seems we hear more of the dire consequences which marine litter, much of it plastic, holds for our planet,” said Mr Horgan. “We need to impress on people that simple individual actions such as discarding a coffee cup – or even a cigarette butt – have implications which stretch beyond the local environment.”

With 10 million tonnes of plastic ending up in the oceans each year, it is estimated there will be more plastic than fish in the seas within 30 years. Research has shown that a single cigarette butt can contaminate up to 200 litres of water.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times