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We’re in for a filthy summer

Cuts could see litter rise - Irish Times
Ciara O'Brien - Monday, June 15, 2009

Budget cuts in councils around Ireland could lead to a rise in litter levels in towns, Irish Business Against Litter (IBAL) has warned. The organisation said it was concerned there would be a deterioration over the summer as councils reduce weekend cleaning to save money, particularly as the peak tourist season begins.

If even a business organisation is concerned about peripheral social issue, not directly related to the bottom-line, then there is something clearly wrong.

Problems with litter in Ireland are nothing new, the combination of intransigent laziness and poor provision of bins leaving our countryside, beautiful in places, strewn with litter of all sorts, from beer cans to condoms and nappies to fridges.

Supermarket car parks were found to be a particular source of litter, according to inspectors, with retailers such as Tesco, Dunnes Stores and Costcutters in different areas found to be a "magnet" for litter, IBAL said.

One good act taken by the present administration (although in a previous iteration) was the plastic-bag tax, c. 22c per bag. This simple tax, while decried in advance as apocalyptic by the business representative bodies, was largely successful, even welcomed. Nowadays, most people bring cloth or other reusable bags to the supermarket. The problem of hundreds of thousands of shopping bags blowing around the towns and cities of Ireland is more or less gone. White plastic no longer flutters in every hedge-row.

Litter bins have never been plentiful in Ireland. Unlike continental bins, widespread and regularly emptied, our few bins languish in a state of permanent fullness. Litter piles up around them until the county council deigns to empty them. This problem seemed to be getting better, in the city centre at least.

But The Recession is here, and county councils up and down the country, already strapped for cash, are cutting corners every where they can. Or everywhere they can get away with. Litter collection is a largely invisible cost, in that you don't miss till its gone.

"We saw over the June Bank holiday weekend how beaches were seriously affected by the lack of weekend cleaning, and it is quite evident in this survey with beaches in Buncrana and Tramore being classed as 'seriously littered'," said IBAL chairman Dr Tom Cavanagh. “As summertime brings tourists and outdoor activity to most areas this is a major worry, which is not limited to beaches, but extends to all public places.”

On the Sunday of the June Bank Holiday weekend, I cycled over to Killiney's Whiterock beach to swim and relax in the sun. Many others had the same idea, but brought their cars. Many of them had food or drink with them, which of course had packaging. Littering seemed inevitable.

The saddest thing was that people seemed actually willing to put their rubbish in the bins, but the bins were so small as to be inadequate at the best of times, and seemed not to have been emptied in some time, let alone on that day. Rubbish piled around the bins, and wasps began to gather. I saw a little girl stung in the time I was there.

The next day, on the news, it became clear that the situation was far worse at other beaches, including Portmarnock which was apparently awash with litter. Apparently, it was not imagined that use of beaches might be higher on the sunniest day of the year so far, nor that the ensuing rubbish and litter might need collected during the day. Still, even if someone had had this idea, they could not have followed up on it, as the overtime limit on litter-collection workers had long since been reached.

The group's figures estimate local councils are making an average saving of €750 per week in cutting weekend cleaning budgets, calling it a false economy.

False economy indeed.


  1. Mark Allen wrote:

    "Still, even if someone had had this idea, they could not have followed up on it, as the overtime limit on litter-collection workers had long since been reached."

    That's socialism in action right there John, you can't have it both ways.

    Tuesday, June 16, 2009 at 12:46 pm | Permalink
  2. johnl wrote:

    Don't be silly, Mark.
    The reason the litter-collection workers had hit their overtime limit was that there were not enough of them in the first place!

    Tuesday, June 16, 2009 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

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