Illegal dumping of rubbish is “economic and environmental treason”, Minister for the Environment Denis Naughten has declared, but campaigners warn that pay-by-weight charges could encourage more of it.
“Littering is a crime. It is doubly so because the scarce resources committed to combating it are resources needed elsewhere,” said Mr Naughten at the launch of Irish Business Against Litter’s (IBAL) latest annual results.
Last year the Minister gave €1.3 million to local authorities and national waste agencies to fund a crackdown on illegal dumping involving covert surveillance, smart technology and drone imagery.
The surveillance campaign will run again this year, said the Minister, but money alone cannot solve Ireland’s litter problems, he added. “It requires behavioural change and personal responsibility.”
The battle against fly-tipping in remote areas, involving co-ordinated multi-agency action and co-operation with local authorities and communities on the ground, needed to be maintained, he added.
More than half of major roads into Irish towns and cities were littered during 2017, a survey conducted by the environmental group An Taisce for IBAL found. This was up from less than a third in 2016.
Conor Horgan of IBAL said the threat of increased illegal dumping could become more prevalent as pay-by-weight charges spread.
The extent of littering along roads connecting towns was more obvious in winter because of bare hedgerows, but most significantly it created an initial impression of a town, he said.
Despite the difficulties, the figures demonstrate a transformation of Irish towns and cities: 32 of the 40 towns and cities investigated are now classified as “clean to European norms”.
This is the highest level achieved since the group first compiled results in 2002. Sixteen years ago, not a single town in the Republic was deemed to have met European standards.
Ennis, Co Clare was declared the cleanest town for 2017: “Collectively, we are continuing to improve. But it also shows we cannot ever afford to be complacent. Ireland still has a significant issue with litter,” Mr Naughton said.
Ennis edged out last year’s winner Kildare and Roscommon in the 2017 anti-litter league, while Waterford was again the cleanest city. A €40,000 public sculpture will be built in the winning town.
Saying Ennis had shown an exceptional result, Michael John O’Mahony of An Taisce said all approach roads into the Clare town were well-kept and the high standard was maintained for almost all of the town.
“To achieve top spot now requires maintaining an entire town in an almost pristine condition, which a local authority cannot do alone,” Mr Horgan said.
In the cities, Tallaght in Dublin improved and Limerick city. Dublin centre fell back to “moderately littered”, with the poorer districts in the city dominating the bottom places in the rankings.
Some €885,000 was provided to local authorities in 2017 to conduct public awareness and education campaigns at a community level targeting litter, dog fouling and graffiti. Funding would be maintained this year because it was proven to be successful in changing behaviour, Mr Naughton said.
“Community groups will not be found wanting by me or my department as the work of keeping our environment clean starts at grassroots level and through education in our schools.”