Runners collect 174 bags of roadside rubbish in pandemic clean-up

Kildare running club found littering and illegal dumping ‘really got out of hand’

Indiscriminate littering along roadsides has increased during the pandemic, with little indication the Government is willing to tackle the problem, according to a running coach who organised a clean-up in his area while complying with Covid restrictions.

"We collected a staggering 174 bags [of rubbish] out of the ditches over a stretch of only 3km," said Martin Baten of St Coca's Athletic Club in Kilcock, Co Kildare. The initiative was undertaken after club members were horrified by the extent of rubbish along the route of a 5km road race over the local Slí na Sláinte.

“Last year, during the first lockdown with the 2km radius [limit], that was for many people in Kilcock the chosen route for a bit of exercise in any shape or form,” explained Baten who had organised the race.

"The amount of littering and illegal dumping really got out of hand. We set up a cleaning team of 15 club members and, with the help of local councillor Paul Ward, we arranged a skip from Kildare County Council.


“During the current lockdown the amount of littering is up again, so we are setting up a similar action from April 10th. We have another team of volunteers set up and hopefully we will get it done in one day,” Baten added. The club will do a combined clean up with Kilcock Tidy Towns and expand the cleaning over a larger area – they have been removing any large bags dumped in the area on an on-going basis.

Originally from Holland, Baten met his wife Marie, who is from Leixlip, in Indonesia in 1997 and they moved to Kilcock in 2005. While he loves the area, the extent of ongoing littering is an issue he finds hard to reconcile. "I don't know what the problem is. It seems to be very Irish. I can't understand people throwing items out of cars, and not thinking about it," he said.

Currently studying supply chain management at Dundalk IT, he recently did a presentation "on the three Rs of sustainability; reduce, reuse and recycle". When delivering it, he said he departed from the brief a little; "I spoke from the heart about this very Irish problem."

“I just want to raise awareness about littering. It’s literally everywhere – even more so during the pandemic. [Along] every way into Kilcock there is dumped material. Unfortunately, this is a national problem. I think the Government is not addressing this problem enough,” he said.

With evidence of bags of rubbish being dumped in the area, CCTV was temporarily put in place but Baten understood the cameras were removed because of GDPR concerns. He believed, however, that the action suggested authorities “do not see it as a crime”.

Labour Party Senator Mark Wall has put forward legislation in the Seanad aimed at providing a legal basis for CCTV to be used.

The Department of the Environment said last month it is aware of an increase in the number of reports of illegal dumping and pointed to more than €10 million in supports it allocated to local authorities to help tackle the issue last year.

It said the Circular Economy Bill is to be used to provide the legal basis for the use of CCTV and other technologies to detect and prosecute illegal dumping in a way that is GDPR compliant.

Government approval will be sought to prepare the general scheme of the Bill “shortly”, it added. “We will then be prioritising the remaining drafting processes to allow for enactment in the second half of 2021.”

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times