Both Galway city centre and Ballybane were deemed to be ‘moderately littered’ in the latest survey by Irish Business Against Litter (IBAL ), though both areas have improved in the national ranking of 37 towns and cities.
The group’s final litter survey of 2020, published this week, saw Galway and Ballybane rise in the national league to 19th and and 25th place respectively. However neither area was deemed ‘clean to European norms’, a status lost by the city centre in the Q3 survey last year.
An Taisce, which carries out litter surveys on behalf of IBAL, found Galway city centre to have improved from the previous survey, with just under half of the sites surveyed receiving the top litter grade. “There were no litter blackspots but some heavily littered sites need to be addressed,” the report stated.
Top-ranking sites in Galway included Heather Grove, IDA Mervue Industrial Estate/Business and Technology Park, Liam Mellows GAA Club, Lough Atalia Road children’s playground, and Bon Secours Hospital. “What sets these and other top-ranking sites apart is that they were not just good with regard to litter, but well presented and maintained,” An Taisce commented. “Two of the seriously littered sites didn’t get into that state overnight and clearly need better maintenance, eg, Market Street Car Park and Galwegians Rugby Club – both had evidence of ‘long-lie’ litter.”
Ballybane was also found to have improved, though problems remain in some areas. “Some improvements were noted at Ballybane at a time when most towns were registering higher litter levels,” the report stated. “One hugely improved site was the grounds of St Brigid’s Church – this has been a very poor site in a previous IBAL survey.
“The residential area of Fana Glas was somewhat improved, though not quite yet deserving of the top litter grade. The recycle facility at Ballybane Shopping Centre deserves special mention as it was such a freshly presented and clean environment. Ballybane village wasn’t just casually littered but subject to dumping.”
According to the report — which saw Kilkenny retain top spot, ahead of Killarney and Ennis — litter levels continue to rise nationwide, with fewer than half of the towns surveyed 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 per cent on last summer and in sharp contrast to three years ago, when 80 per cent were clean.
Types of litter
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,” said 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.”
Restrictions introduced as a response to the pandemic are among the factors affecting the rise in litter - while local authority resources are reduced due to restrictions, people are spending more time than ever outdoors. The rising trend in walking has seen an increase in litter, particularly on approach roads to towns.
“Ironically, too many of them are showing a shameful disregard for the environment they are enjoying,” Mr Horgan said.
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,” Mr Horgan added. “In fact, we are seeing more and more of them ending up our streets.
“While people have certainly become more attuned to their natural surroundings and more conscious of how litter can spoil those surroundings, this is offset by an understandable unwillingness to pick up waste for fear of contamination. As the pandemic endures, and with it the sensitivity around touching items, people may simply get out of the habit of picking up other people’s litter. We risk losing a civic behaviour which is vital in keeping our country clean.”