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There's been an increase in coffee-cup and PPE litter since the pandemic began

While the survey indicated that the majority of towns deteriorated during the pandemic, Kilkenny maintained its “pristine condition”.

Image: Shutterstock/Mikhaylovskiy

A NATIONWIDE LITTER survey has shown that levels of PPE and coffee cup litter have continued to increase across the country since the pandemic began.

The survey from the Irish Business Against Litter (IBAL) indicated that for the first time in 13 years, fewer than half of the towns surveyed were deemed ‘clean’.

In all, litter levels rose in 24 of the 37 towns and cities inspected by An Taisce at the end of 2020, resulting in only 17 being judged to be clean – a fall of over 25% on last summer and in sharp contrast to just 3 years ago, when 80% were clean.

For the fifth time, Kilkenny won out over Killarney, Ennis and Tullamore to top the table of the cleanest area. 

Praising Kilkenny in its report, An Taisce commented:

“There is surely a lesson in this result for other towns – while the majority of towns have deteriorated during Covid, Kilkenny has been maintained in pristine condition.”

The High Street, River Nore Walk and grounds of Kilkenny Castle were all “excellent with regard to not just litter, but overall presentation”.

Litter Source: IBAL

According to IBAL, the survey results are consistent with a trend in recent years. “The decline in cleanliness is less a case of the poorer areas getting worse, but of previously clean towns slipping to littered,” says IBAL spokesperson Conor Horgan.

“Covid is clearly a factor here, but we should never accept litter as inevitable. It comes down to people disposing of their waste without regard for their surroundings or their fellow citizens and it is entirely unnecessary.”

One explanation for the rise in litter lies in the restrictions surrounding cleaning services during the pandemic.

“While council workers have not been on the streets as much as normal, the general public has been spending more time than ever out of doors,” says Horgan.

There was a sharp rise in the amounts of litter on approach roads to towns, reflecting the fact that the benign winter has seen masses of people out walking. “Ironically, too many of them are showing a shameful disregard for the environment they are enjoying.”

PPE litter

Coffee cups were among the most prevalent litter types found, while there was another rise in glass bottles and cans, suggesting that outdoor drinking has not waned over the winter months.

The survey also showed that the second half of 2020 brought a further increase in PPE-related litter, primarily masks.

“Eight months into the pandemic, we would have hoped people would have moved to reusable masks with a resulting fall in mask-related litter. In fact, we are seeing more and more of them ending up our streets.”

Heavily littered sites ‘getting worse’

The report highlighted a continued rise in the number of blackspots in towns and cities.

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IBAL was once again critical of the failure of local authorities to address sites that had been identified in previous surveys as heavily littered. 36 such sites were revisited in this latest survey, yet only 11% were found to have been cleaned up and more than a quarter had actually worsened.

Among the worst sites were Dry Dock in Dublin’s IFSC, Balbutcher Lane in Ballymun, where “there was litter everywhere“, and St Patrick’s Park in Navan which again suffered from “a very large dumping problem”.

Ballybane Village in Galway “wasn’t just casually littered but subject to dumping”.

“With restrictions on time and resources, local authorities need to be more selective in their cleaning efforts,” says Horgan.

“Too many sites are persistently littered. It is disheartening that yet again our work in reporting them is falling on deaf ears.”

You can find the report on the IBAL site here.

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