The Irish Times view on Ireland’s litter problem: dirty old towns

We have fewer clean towns overall than last year

It is particularly troubling that, even in cities like Dublin and Galway where the centres and some suburbs have relatively clean streets, their economically deprived areas are often unacceptably defaced by litter. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

It is particularly troubling that, even in cities like Dublin and Galway where the centres and some suburbs have relatively clean streets, their economically deprived areas are often unacceptably defaced by litter. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

 

Litter can seem a minor problem set against the broad canvas of environmental crises, from global heating to biodiversity loss. Looked at another way, however, pollution and greenhouse gas emissions by government, industry, agriculture, the transport sector and individuals are simply littering on a grand scale. This is the larger context in which we might read the Irish Business Against Litter (IBAL) annual review. It shows that some towns, led by Kilkenny, Killarney, Swords, Newbridge and Leixlip, are maintaining appropriately high standards in keeping public areas free of rubbish.

The gap in cleanliness between neglected areas and high-profile city centres is not closing

It is disturbing to learn, however, that we have fewer clean towns overall than last year. And it is particularly troubling that, even in cities like Dublin and Galway where the centres and some suburbs have relatively clean streets, economically deprived areas are often unacceptably defaced by litter. As IBAL noted, the gap in cleanliness between neglected areas and high-profile city centres is not closing.

One simple index shows that public goods are very unequally distributed between deprived areas and prosperous suburbs

Awareness and education are factors as well as the reality that people living on the margins or struggling to make a living cannot easily dedicate much mental space to keeping their environment litter-free. Yet many people on lower incomes take great pride in their surroundings and, whatever the obstacles, commit considerable personal energy to the task of improving them.

But there is a deeper problem. Whole sectors of our urban (and rural) populations might legitimately argue that the communities in which they live have fared badly in the scale of investment in their public sphere. One simple index shows that public goods are very unequally distributed between deprived areas and prosperous suburbs. The former benefit much more from trees and green spaces allocated by local authorities than the latter. In these circumstances it is not surprising that many feel less invested in the public good than more privileged fellow citizens. It is not just our environmental culture that needs to change if we are to tackle this problem but our social one as well.

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