The Irish Times view on Ireland’s litter problem: a threat to coastal areas

Of most concern is the permanent damage being caused to the marine environment in the form of plastic pollution

Left unaddressed, notions of a green Ireland that is an attractive place to live,  work or take a holiday in quickly fade. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Left unaddressed, notions of a green Ireland that is an attractive place to live, work or take a holiday in quickly fade. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

 

It took almost 10 years of naming and shaming by the environmental group Irish Business Against Litter (IBAL) for local authorities to get to grips with unacceptable levels of litter in Irish cities and towns.

The findings of IBAL’s first survey of coastal areas and inland waterways suggest a similar no-compromise approach will be required with these locations, as just four out of 50 beaches, harbours and rivers were found to be litter-free. The scale of the problem threatens Ireland’s reputation for unspoiled landscapes. Some of its most scenic locations, such as along the Wild Atlantic Way, are threatened.

Left unaddressed, notions of a green Ireland that is an attractive place to live, work or holiday in will quickly fade

Sixteen years ago, less than 10 per cent of the towns and cities surveyed by IBAL were deemed “clean”. The most recent report shows 75 per cent of these areas attaining this status. In sharp contrast, a similar level of coastal areas and waterways are “littered” or “heavily littered”.

Little Skellig contains a large density of gannet nests covered with marine debris. Photograph: Mark Hilliard
Little Skellig contains a large density of gannet nests covered with marine debris. Photograph: Mark Hilliard

Powerful instrument

The league table has proven to be a powerful instrument in focusing attention among local authorities, volunteer groups and others on litter in towns and cities.

IBAL is now broadening its focus. It will be supported in its efforts by groups already on the ground monitoring and picking up waste, including Coastwatch Ireland, Clean Coasts, An Taisce and Tidy Towns groups, not to mention hundreds of smaller but committed groups and individuals who help clean their local beaches and waterways regularly.

Left unaddressed, notions of a green Ireland that is an attractive place to live, work or holiday in will quickly fade. Of most concern, however, is the permanent damage being caused to the marine environment in the form of plastic pollution. “This litter isn’t just unsightly, it is contributing to lasting, potentially irreparable damage to our planet. This is the new face of litter,” IBAL spokesman Conor Horgan noted.

“A straw which is only used on average for 20 minutes can take more than 200 years to break down into smaller pieces, and often does not fully disintegrate.” File photograph: Getty Images
Plastic: Pretty presentation that ends up being pretty polluting. File photograph: Getty Images

IBAL should continue its naming and shaming ploy, but others, including the Government, need to join forces in a more co-ordinated way to prevent so much waste ending up in marine areas around Ireland.

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