Litter Levels In Ireland Worst in 10 Years

Ireland has a reputation for rolling green hills and stunning landscapes- but according to the Irish Business Against Litter (IBAL) association its towns and cities need to shape up.

The organisation has recently released the findings of their latest litter survey, and the results are not flattering. Litter levels in Irish cities are the worst they’ve been in over a decade.

Who are IBAL?

Irish Business Against Litter was founded in 1996 and is an alliance of Irish businesses of all sizes who wish to promote clean and litter-free communities across the country. IBAL firmly believes that a litter-free Ireland will be a more prosperous Ireland, pointing out the links between economic success in the tourism and food industry, as well as foreign-investment, and attractive rubbish-free towns and cities. The organisation’s efforts on behalf of the hospitality sector have been recognised by the Irish government, with founder Dr. Tom Cavanagh even receiving an award in 2014 from then Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

IBAL conducts regular surveys on litter levels in Ireland as part of its Anti-Litter League campaign, and also keeps track of issues such as marine waste and coastal littering. 

Has COVID made littering worse?

Catching COVID-19 won’t make somebody suddenly prone to dumping rubbish, but the society-wide effects of the pandemic are definitely contributing to dirtier streets. This was IBAL’s first post-lockdown study, and they reported a staggering 30% increase in PPE litter. It seems that disposable masks of all kinds are simply being dropped and left behind in town centres. The shutdown of shops, pubs, and cafés for weeks at a time since March 2020 also directly resulted in a massive upswing in people picnicking outdoors or engaging in public drinking. Unfortunately not everyone has been considerate enough to tidy up after themselves, and even those who tried to dispose of their rubbish responsibly were confronted with a shortage of public bins. 

The result has been the depressing sight of litter lined streets and parks, which has certainly put a damper on re-opening.

Towns vs Cities

The IBAL litter survey found that the centres of three of Ireland’s major cities, Cork, Limerick, and Dublin, all now rank worse than they did in the last study. Other urban centres that have fared badly included Drogheda and Waterford city. Although Galway’s inner city was still recorded as ‘littered’ this year, the city overall has bettered its score and was joined by the towns of Tallaght and Ballymun as the only three examples of areas with year-on-year improvement. Dublin’s north inner city boasts the dubious honour of being the nation’s only ‘litter black-spot.’

By contrast to the performances of Ireland’s city, the top ten areas for low litter levels out of the forty surveyed were nearly all smaller towns- the only exception was Kilkenny city sitting at the number six spot. Leixlip and Ennis took second and third respectively, and for the first time Portlaoise was crowned the most litter-free town in Ireland. 

How does Ireland rank compared to other European countries?

IBAL ranks the areas in its surveys according to how they compare to average litter levels in Europe. For example places in the top ten spots, such as Naas and Dún Laoghaire, ranked as being ‘Cleaner Than European Norms’. This begs the question: what are the standards like in our neighbouring countries?

Despite good reputations for recycling and green environmental policies, countries like Denmark and Germany produce high amounts of waste per person per year. The average Dane creates 777kg of waste annually, compared to the 563kg an Irish person is responsible for. We shouldn’t rush to pat ourselves on the backs though, given that Eastern European countries like Poland and Romania manage to produce lower amounts again. The average Romanian creates 261kg of waste a year.

When it comes to clean cities Dublin ranks joint ninth overall for European capitals, tied with Madrid and ahead of other cities like London, Amsterdam, and Stockholm. 

What can you do to keep Ireland green?

We all have a role to play when it comes to preserving Ireland’s beauty. Apart from remembering to pick up after ourselves, and encouraging others to do the same, there are plenty of ways to get involved.

Tidy Towns is an initiative of the Department of Rural and Community Development. It’s a nationwide competition where rural towns and villages across Ireland work to improve their local communities by volunteer work and projects to get rubbish off the streets. Up to 700 towns enter every year, and you can check if yours is competing here.

If you’re based in Dublin you might consider joining either the Grand Canal Cleanup Group or the Royal Canal Cleanup Group, which meet every month to keep two of the city’s major waterways clean.

Caoilfhinn Hegarty
Caoilfhinn Hegarty

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