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Saturday 23 September 2023 Dublin: 6°C
Sasko Lazarov/ A discarded face mask and glove in Poolbeg, Dublin (file photo).
# Masks
Several towns and cities lose 'clean' status amid increase in PPE litter around the country
Dublin, Galway and Limerick city centres all lost their ‘clean’ status, according to a new survey.

A NUMBER OF cities and towns have lost their ‘clean’ status in a nationwide litter survey.

The first survey by business group Irish Business Against Litter (IBAL) since the Covid-19 pandemic began shows a dramatic fall in the number of towns and cities deemed to be ‘clean’, down to its lowest level since 2007.

Cities fared particularly badly, with Dublin, Galway and Limerick city centres all losing their ‘clean’ status.

Kilkenny was again judged best of the 40 towns and cities surveyed, with ‘seriously littered’ Dublin’s north inner city at the foot of the table.

  • Our colleagues at Noteworthy want to find out if Irish recycling waste is ending up in illegal dumps abroad? See how you can support this project here.

The survey showed personal protective equipment (PPE) litter to be widespread, as well as an increase in the prevalence of cans and glass bottles.

An Taisce, who carried out the survey, deemed 23 towns to be ‘clean’, a decrease of over 20% on last year.

The number of towns reaching the highest cleanliness level – cleaner than European norms – dropped by a quarter to nine, with Kilkenny edging out Athlone, Killarney and Portlaoise at the top of the rankings.

Screenshot 2020-10-12 at 08.44.24 IBAL The top 10 IBAL

While no area was branded a ‘litter blackspot’, north inner city Dublin was once again seriously littered, as was Galvone in Limerick City, which fell back from last year.

By contrast, Dublin’s Ballymun was among the few areas to improve on 2019, its Main Street praised as “very well presented, with a virtual absence of litter throughout”.

Screenshot 2020-10-12 at 08.44.40 IBAL The bottom 10 IBAL

IBAL’s Conor Horgan said the Covid-19 pandemic “has seen more dumping, more outdoor socialising, especially drinking, and PPE litter, but less cleaning by local authorities and less activity by volunteers like Tidy Towns”.

He described the situation as “a perfect storm, in many ways, which has brought us to the worst position we’ve been in in over 10 years”.

The report notes that local authorities have curtailed cleaning schedules and diverted resources to other areas.

“At the same time, households have been generating more litter during lockdown and there has been a visible increase in drinking outdoors as pubs are closed, a fact borne out by the rise in bottles and cans found by the An Taisce inspectors, Galway city being one example,” the report adds.

However, there was a reduction in cigarette butts, with the report noting this may be a reflection of pubs and offices being closed. Half of all recycle facilities surveyed were heavily littered, another “likely consequence of the Covid crisis”, the report states.

Simon Brock, of Dublin City Council’s Waste Management Division, told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland the results of the survey are “disappointing”. However, he noted that DCC’s litter services were reduced by about 50% at the height of the pandemic as resources were temporarily directed elsewhere.

“We set ourselves very high standards so the results of the IBAL survey are disappointing. And it may relate to the period during the pandemic when our services were reduced to ensure we could continue to deliver essential services.

“I think we should hopefully see a return to a clean city centre very soon, if that hasn’t happened already.”

Brock said the reduction in litter services earlier this year coincided with spikes of illegal dumping and “additional use of litter bins in outdoor areas where people were congregating with additional litter being generated by outdoor eating and drinking”.

DCC’s litter and waste management service is now operating at full capacity once again.

PPE litter

PPE litter was prevalent across the country, with masks five times as common as gloves, the survey found.

“Understandably, people are reluctant to pick up these items for fear of contracting Covid, so they tend to stay on the ground. We need to see a rapid rise in the use of reusable masks,” Horgan said.

Of the 61 sites described as either heavily littered or blackspots in 2019, fewer than 40% were clean in this latest survey.

“It is a source of particular frustration that those sites which we had identified last year as heavily littered were – for the most part – not cleaned up in the interim,” Horgan said.

Among the very bad sites surveyed, “heavy levels of litter abounded” at Galvone Business Park in Limerick, while the area’s recycle facility was “subject to dumping on a monumental scale”.

There were “major accumulations” of items in the water in the canal at Ossary Road in Dublin, while St Patrick’s Park in Navan was “one of the worst sites seen by IBAL in recent years” with “heavy levels of dumping of large scale household items such as mattresses, couches and black sacks”.

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