Illegal dumping: cleaning up the countryside

Now that China has banned plastic imports and landfill sites are being closed, Ireland is facing a disposal problem

A fund of €2m will be made available to voluntary organisations and local authorities this year as part of the Government’s anti-illegal dumping initiative. Photograph:  Cyril Byrne

A fund of €2m will be made available to voluntary organisations and local authorities this year as part of the Government’s anti-illegal dumping initiative. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

Nearly three thousand tonnes of illegally dumped waste was removed from urban and rural areas last year. It was quite an achievement, forming part of a €1.3m clean-up and restorative project that involved hundreds of community, environmental and sporting groups and councils. This year, a fund of €2m will be made available to voluntary organisations and local authorities as part of the Government’s anti-illegal dumping initiative.

Cleaning up the countryside, its beaches and walking routes following unauthorised dumping is only part of the exercise. Technology will be used to identify those engaged in this reprehensible activity and 23 regional officers have been employed to bring prosecutions. Given the scale of the problem, it is a limited response. But the involvement of local communities and the identification of 51 dumping black spots in both urban and rural areas have helped to raise public awareness and encourage local vigilance in protecting the environment.

Illegal dumping of some material could increase because of external developments. Ireland is the largest producer of plastic waste in the EU and, until recently, 95 per cent of that material was sent to China for reprocessing. Now that China has banned such imports and landfill sites are being closed, Ireland is facing a disposal problem. Legislation on plastic packaging is being promoted in Europe, not just because of recycling and disposal problems but because, as it degrades, tiny particles enter the marine food chain.

Covert surveillance and the use of smart technology, such as drones, to identify unauthorised waste sites and illegal dumpers should be intensified. Particular attention should be paid to those businesses and householders that hand over rubbish to unauthorised collectors. Existing legislation is weak and outdated. Loopholes that allow offenders to avoid conviction must be closed and strict new provisions introduced. A publicity campaign encouraging social activism, along with the introduction of tougher penalties for all those connected with this illegal trade, are required.

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