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The beachside scene after a day of sun. Niamh O'Reilly

Trashing the place 'The actual state of litter in Ireland'

‘Nappies, picnic remains, food containers, coffee cups, plasters, wet wipes, sanitary pads, tampons were all flung on the beach’, writes Niamh O’Reilly.

THERE’S NOTHING LIKE a day at the beach when the sun shines in Ireland. With sandy stretches and clear water, there is a feeling that, sure lookit, you could almost be anywhere in the world. Except for the rubbish, that is.

“Daddy, look I found an AirPod” a little girl shouted excitedly to her father on a sunny day at my local beach last summer. I watched on as she ran up to him, waving the short white object in her hand.

Amazing what you find at the beach, I smiled to myself as I looked on. Only it wasn’t an AirPod. It was a tampon.

I felt physically sick, not to mention the horrified father and bemused little girl.

I’ve been lucky enough to live near the sea my whole life, and I’d love to tell you that this sort of find is an isolated incident. It’s not. Nappies, picnic remains, food containers, coffee cups, plasters, wet wipes, sanitary pads, tampons. You name it, we’re leaving it behind at our most beautiful beaches and scenic spots far too often.

Something stinks and it’s not just the trash.

Flinging rubbish about

A couple of weekends ago, when the lesser spotted sun decided to shine for the first time this year, I like lots of people headed to the beach. We had a great day out, but as we walked back to the car at the end of the day, the bin nearest the beach looked like the aftermath of Monty Python’s Mr Creosote skit.

IMG_8143 (1) The beachside scene after a day of sun. Niamh O'Reilly Niamh O'Reilly

It was so past the point of being full, it looked as if it had literally exploded with rubbish. That didn’t stop people from using it, however. In fact, they thought it would be completely legit to simply pile their rubbish on top, beside it, and all around it like some kind of trash version of the leaning Tower of Pisa. The even more maddening part was that a few hundred yards down the path, another bin had space in it.

I’ve no doubt most people have good intentions when it comes to cleaning up after themselves, but there is something about groups of people when out and about that seems to spark that latent lazy energy, we all harbour as a species. Once one person starts to pile up rubbish beside a full bin, it’s like a green light has been signalled that it’s grand to follow suit. Sure, it’s beside the bin. That’s got to be better than simply dropping it on the ground, right?

Wrong. We’ve got to start taking responsibility for our own rubbish.

County councils must play their part too. They need to ensure the adequate resourcing and management of waste, providing enough bins and larger dumpsters during the busy summer months. From my own experience, our local council plans fairly well for the crowds, and clean-up crews are out early to keep the seafront area tidy, but even with that, littering is still an issue.

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There is also something to be said for the lack of recycling and compost bins available at these scenic spots, but we do need to start getting comfortable with taking our rubbish home with us if these options aren’t there on the day.

Why, people… why?

Even if you take the idea of a lack of bins or full bins out of the equation, we can still have a strange attitude towards our garbage. It’s the one where people think it’s fine to tip their car boot full of rubbish in a bush up a mountain and then do a runner. Out of sight, out of mind.

It’s the same attitude that sees people go to the trouble of picking up their dog’s poo in a bag, tying a neat little bow and then hurling said bag into a forest. Or weirder still hanging it from a tree, so that it ends up looking like a bizarre modern art installation… Poopulus Tremula, anyone?

a-bag-containing-dog-waste-hangs-from-a-tree-by-a-path-in-a-derbyshire-woodland-england-uk A special place in hell for the people who bag up the dog poo and fire it into the trees... Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Despite good intentions, it just feels like there’s still a disconnect happening somewhere along the way. Ireland is currently forecast to miss its 2025 European Union (EU) target of recycling 50% of all plastic packaging. A recent Repak survey found that only half of people say they always separate their recycling into the correct bins at home. Only 28% claim they always separate their recycling when out and about. Again, many places need to up their game and offer people adequate recycling options when out, instead of one single waste bin, and perhaps those stats will improve.

Still, be it due to confusion or laziness, there’s a lack of adequate recycling and separating of waste going on at home and this is translating into our behaviour and attitudes when out and about.

litter-piled-up-next-to-a-street-litter-only-green-wheelie-bin-by-a-fence-on-the-pier-galway-city Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

The most recent litter statistics reveal that cigarette litter is the top polluter at over 50%, followed by packaging at 18.9% and food at 10.2%. It’s safe to assume, however, that when the next set of data comes out, cigarettes will surely be leapfrogged by vape-related litter. Who hasn’t come across piles of empty Lost Marys on the path recently and surfaces covered in those little white stickers?

In the 2008 film WALL-E, a cute little trash robot is left alone on Earth, forming endless skyscrapers of rubbish into tiny cubes. Humans have long since departed, having destroyed the now uninhabitable Planet Earth with waste.

moscowrussianfederation-december302021souvenirrobotfrom Shutterstock / Nailya Yakubova Shutterstock / Nailya Yakubova / Nailya Yakubova

They now spend their days being morbidly obese, living on a futuristic space station looking at screens all day, while their every whim is catered for by an army of robots and AI software.

I can’t help thinking this fun little movie is not a million miles away from where we are headed if we don’t stop trashing the place.

Niamh O’Reilly is a freelance writer and wrangler of two small boys, who is winging her way through motherhood, her forties and her eyeliner.

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