The dumping of personal protective equipment (PPE) is a significant contributory factor to littering in Irish towns and cities falling to the worst level in well over a decade, a major new report has found.
The report was commissioned by Irish Business Against Litter (IBAL), an alliance of companies sharing a belief that continued economic prosperity is contingent on a clean, litter-free environment.
Its first nationwide litter report since the coronavirus crisis, published on Monday, showed a dramatic fall in the number of towns and cities deemed to be “clean”, to its lowest level since 2007.
Cities fared particularly badly, with Dublin, Galway and Limerick city centres all losing their “clean” status.
While no area was branded a “litter blackspot”, the worst affected areas, deemed to be “seriously littered”, were Dublin’s north inner city and Limerick city south, with the townland of Galvone subjected to a “monumental level” of dumping.
In something of a sign of the times, the report showed PPE litter to be widespread and a rise in the prevalence of cans and glass bottles.
IBAL’s Conor Horgan said the coronavirus pandemic has led to more littering and less cleaning up by volunteers.
“The rise in litter levels this year is across the board,” he said. “The Covid crisis has seen more dumping, more outdoor socialising, especially drinking, and PPE litter, but less cleaning by local authorities and less activity by volunteers like Tidy Towns.”
He called the situation “a perfect storm, in many ways”, which has brought the State to “the worst position we’ve been in in over 10 years”.
“In the fight against Covid-19, local authorities have curtailed cleaning schedules and diverted resources to other areas,” he continued.
“At the same time, households have been generating more litter during lockdown and there has been a visible increase in drinking outdoors as pubs are closed, a fact borne out by the rise in bottles and cans found by the An Taisce inspectors, Galway city being one example.
“However, there was a reduction in cigarette butts, perhaps also a reflection of pubs and offices being closed. Half of all recycle facilities surveyed were heavily littered, another likely consequence of the Covid crisis.”
Mr Horgan said the prevalence of PPE litter across the country was a matter of particular concern, with discarded masks five times as common as gloves.
“Understandably, people are reluctant to pick up these items for fear of contracting Covid, so they tend to stay on the ground,” he said. “We need to see a rapid rise in the use of reusable masks.”
Kilkenny was again judged the best of the 40 towns and cities surveyed. An Taisce, who carried out the report, deemed 23 towns to be “clean”, which represented a fall of more than 20 per cent on last year.
The number of towns reaching the highest cleanliness level – “cleaner than European norms” – dropped by a quarter to nine, with Kilkenny edging out Athlone, Killarney and Portlaoise at the top of the rankings.
Dublin’s Ballymun was among the few areas to improve on 2019, with its Main Street praised as “very well presented, with a virtual absence of litter throughout”.
Mr Horgan also said that the number of “very bad sites” within towns explained the overall deterioration in cleanliness.
“It is a source of particular frustration that those sites which we had identified last year as heavily littered were – for the most part – not cleaned up in the interim,” he said.
“Of 61 sites described as either heavily littered or blackspots in 2019, fewer than 40 per cent were clean in this latest report. We’ve been saying for years that the most immediate way to improve a town or city is to focus on the bad areas – clearly this is not being done.”
Among the worst sites surveyed, “heavy levels of litter abounded” at Galvone Business Park in Limerick, while the area’s recycle facility was “subject to dumping on a monumental scale”.
There were “major accumulations” of food related and other miscellaneous items in the water in the Canal at Ossary Road in Dublin.
Elsewhere, St Patrick’s Park in Navan was “one of the worst sites” seen by IBAL in recent years with “heavy levels of dumping” of large scale household items such as mattresses, couches and black sacks.
“In these exceptional times, when councils’ resources are stretched, civic responsibility is called for more than ever,” added Mr Horgan.
“The mantra ‘we’re all in this together’ extends to the proper disposal of waste, not least waste that is prone to contamination. With fewer people available or willing to pick up litter, the message has to be not to litter in the first place.”
Seriously littered areas
Limerick city south – Galvone
Dublin north inner city
Cleaner than European norms
Waterford city centre