The Irish Times view on littered beaches: Leave no trace

Some local authorities, volunteer clean-up groups and Irish Business Against Litter deserve credit for recent improvement

There is qualified good news in the latest report from Irish Business Against Litter (IBAL): the number of beaches deemed “clean to European norms” has more the doubled. Some local authorities, volunteer clean-up groups, and IBAL’s awareness-raising, all deserve credit for this improvement. But we are rising from a very low bar. Only 16 per cent of beaches met this standard in 2019. This year’s 40 per cent result shows that we still need to raise our game a lot.

Beach litter has many sources. Plastics dumped in international waters are beyond our direct control, and will have to be collected for the foreseeable future. Others, like industrial and fishing waste, need to be tracked to source and penalised. The dumping of household rubbish also defaces our shorelines. Again, more rigorous enforcement is called for. But a great deal of seaside rubbish, from drink cans and sandwich wrappings to the abandoned blankets, wind shields and toys reflecting our wasteful consumer culture, is scattered by unthinking leisure visitors.

A two-pronged approach is needed. Packaging, especially plastic packaging, should be drastically reduced by the food retail and catering industries. And more education and enforcement campaigns are needed to make the “pack it in, pack it out” ethos second nature to us all. Local authorities should empty existing bins promptly. But more bins are hardly the answer. Much better to remind visitors through staff engagement with the public, and through imaginative signage, that they should recycle their own rubbish.

Volunteer groups are playing a vital role, as demonstrated by the remarkable teenager Flossie Donnelly, whose fast-growing Beach Cleaners group mobilised actions in almost all our counties at the weekend. Their very presence on a beach should shame the rest of us into behaving better. Such work reminds us that healthy shorelines should not only be litter-free, they should allow biodiversity to flourish. Rubbish is not only unsightly, it is often deadly to plant and animal life. Let's all leave no trace this summer.