More than 5,700 black bags of roadside rubbish – which would stretch for 5km if laid end-to-end – have been collected by members of the public in Co Meath, all within 5km of their homes.
Community warden with Meath County Council Alan Nolan said the bulk of what was dumped into ditches and along roadsides could have been recycled.
“There is a pandemic of rubbish on our country roads,” he said. “The amount of stuff we are finding is beyond my wildest imagination.”
While it has not all been littered during the pandemic, he said people started to notice the amount of rubbish being dumped when they began to walk their local roads.
“When people began walking and looking into the ditches as they walked, and they were people who hadn’t walked the road for years, they were seeing it there.”
He said “99.9 per cent is recyclable” adding that “it is glass bottles, plastic bottles and cans. We are not getting nappies, instead it is stuff that is coming out of the windows of cars and vehicles and it has been going on for years.”
Earlier this year the council launched the Green Kilometre Scheme in response to requests from groups and individuals. Under the scheme, the council provides litter pickers, bags, gloves and high-vis bibs and after the clean up it collects the bags of rubbish.
The scheme has gathered interest across the county, which has more than 3,600km of roads, and by Thursday Mr Nolan said there were 5,740 bags collected.
“Each bag is approximately 1m long when full, so end-to-end it stretches to over 5km. Now think about that.”
The council has spent about €20,000 on the scheme to date and he said,“if people were not ignorant and did not throw their rubbish out the [car] window, we would not have to spend it. The amount of vodka bottles and beer bottles being found is scary and it is horrific. I wonder are these people drinking on our roads?”
Mr Nolan is also dealing with calls about bulky items and on Thursday he found four mattresses dumped into a ditch on the Minnistown Road between Laytown and Bettystown, while the day before he found a toilet and cistern just 20m from the main road near Garlow Cross.
Bernadine Carry, environmental officer with the council, said "there has been a tremendous response to the Green Kilometre Scheme with 170 groups and individuals across Meath signed up, ranging from small family groups to larger community-led events such as the Moynalvy GFA, Bohermeen Bog Development Group, and Ballinabrackey Communities Together".
“We have had a much greater demand for the service than expected and have had to take on another collection truck to keep up with requirements.”
People are not asked to separate the waste, just to collect it, and she said,“so far the communities in Meath have collected over 5,000 bags of waste and 10 roll-on roll-off skips of bulky waste and tyres at a cost of approximately €20,000, with an additional investment of €15,000 in equipment.”
“There is a lot of dashboard dining-style dumping taking place involving drink and food containers. Larger-scale dumping tends to take place at night, under the cover of darkness which presents difficulties in identifying and prosecuting the offender.
“This is very frustrating for local communities and for our own enforcement staff who must follow very strict regulations when putting together a case,” the council official added.