Dirty old towns: Litter levels in towns and cities hit 13-year high

Coffee cups and face masks are most prevalent litter, study for business group Ibal finds

Ireland’s towns and cities are dirtier than ever, with litter levels at their worst in 13 years, according to Irish Business Against Litter (Ibal).

Litter levels rose in 24 of the 37 towns and cities inspected at the end of 2020 by An Taisce for Ibal. This represented a decline in cleanliness of more than 25 per cent on last summer and a marked deterioration on three years ago, when 80 per cent clean.

The two dirtiest place in the State were in Dublin, with Ballymun and the north inner city both ranked as “seriously littered”.

For the first time in 13 years, fewer than half of the towns surveyed were deemed clean.


Takeaway coffee cups and PPE-related litter, particularly masks, were among the most prevalent litter types found. “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,” Ibal spokesman Conor Horgan said.

“Eight 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.”

Cleaning services

One explanation for the rise in litter was the restrictions surrounding cleaning services during the pandemic, Mr Horgan said. “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,” he said.

There was a sharp rise in the amounts of litter on approach roads to towns, with more people out walking. “Ironically, too many of them are showing a shameful disregard for the environment they are enjoying.”

A reluctance among “civic-minded people” to pick up other people’s rubbish during the pandemic could carry long-term consequences he said. “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.”

Outside Dublin, the south of Limerick city, Navan, Co Meath, Mullingar, Co Westmeath, and Mahon in Cork were the dirtiest areas. Kilkenny has retained its title as the cleanest town in the State.

Olivia Kelly

Olivia Kelly

Olivia Kelly is Dublin Editor of The Irish Times