City Council's difficulties taking on the litter louts

Rob McNamara speaks to City Hall officials about tackling dumping and the challenges the local authority faces in catching offenders
City Council's difficulties taking on the litter louts

Cork City Council issued 755 litter fines and 405 of these had been paid. Pic: Domnick Walsh

WITH just four wardens to cover an area 37.8 sq/km, catching litter louts in the act of dumping is a difficult task for Cork City Council.

A recent report by the Irish Businesses Against Litter (IBAL) group found Patrick Street to be “immaculate” but parts of the northside and Mahon were branded as “seriously littered”.

Cork City centre was deemed to be generally clean to European norms but there is still a prevalent problem with people dumping rubbish in public places.

Up to November of last year, Cork City Council issued 755 litter fines and 405 of these had been paid. The remaining 350 are either being contested or are waiting to be heard in court.

The Evening Echo recently visited Cork City District Court to see what happens when people accused of littering are brought before a judge. It provided a snapshot of the problems faced by the city in tackling dumpers.

In a busy series of hearings, a number dumping cases were heard. In every case where a fine was issued — in many instances along with legal and clean up costs — litter wardens had identified the offender by finding documentation such as bills with names and addresses in the rubbish.

One serial offender was convicted of four different instances of dumping rubbish.

Michael Sheehan, Director of Services Environment, said identifying people through the documentation in rubbish dumped is the most effective way of catching litter offenders and while CCTV can prove effective in some cases, only more litter wardens, coupled with a change in societal attitudes can reduce instances of dumping.

“It’s quite rare that we would issue on the spot fines where we’d actually see someone littering,” he said.

Michael Sheehan, centre, Director of Services Environment, City Council, launching the gum taskforce with warden supervisor, Cara Behan, and warden Barry Hughes. 	Picture: Tony O’Connell Photography.
Michael Sheehan, centre, Director of Services Environment, City Council, launching the gum taskforce with warden supervisor, Cara Behan, and warden Barry Hughes.  Picture: Tony O’Connell Photography.

“The type of instances where we would issue litter fines for such activity are dog fouling, which is problematic in itself, or if the litter warden spots someone throwing something from a vehicle. But a lot of the instances are after the fact. That is something we will have to look at going forward.

“Mostly, the evidence is recovered from bags that are either dumped illegally or placed next to wheelie bins. Issuing a fine is not as straightforward as you may think,” he added.

According to Mr Sheehan, tackling dumping is far more complex an issue than merely issuing fines.

“I would class it as a sort of triangle effect. One would be education and awareness. It’s important that we change people’s perception and mindset and we do that through advertisements and through information campaigns,” he said.

“Recently, we sent out a leaflet to every single household in the city to advise people what litter actually is and what you can get fined for. From Cork City Council’s point of view, it’s not a revenue generator to be issuing fines. Fines are more for changing people’s mindset, behaviour and how they perceive what they need to do with their waste.

“The second side of the triangle is enforcement. We have a number of litter wardens but we are short staffed. We could do with more. Boots on the street are effective. If people see a litter warden out there it does alter their behaviour. If you see a guard on the motorway, whether you’re going fast or not we tend to hit the brakes anyway.

“The third side of it is that there does need to be a certain amount of civic responsibility and civic pride in relation to keeping places clean. All of those three things need to come together help us combat dumping,” he added.

With litter wardens stretched to capacity, Cork City Council is seeking other ways to catch offenders in the act and prevent dumping by raising awareness.

“There are other things we can do,” said Michael.

“Litter wardens and myself have been out on night patrols as well and we have issued fines. It is a worthwhile exercise and it is something we are going to have to do because there seems to be a perception out there that before nine in the morning and after five in the evening that there’s a free for all and that is a mindset that needs to be tacked and has to change,” he added.

While City Council uses CCTV in litter blackspots and on a rota basis in other areas, it is hard to identify individuals from footage and the method is most effective when a vehicle is used in the offence. Convicting offenders is a deterrent to others, but Michael said working with communities and providing a holistic approach to littering can work wonders for the city.

“In cases [with serial offenders], the litter warden will speak to the people involved and give them best advice,” he said.

“We would also try to approach the issue from other angles as well. We will speak to the people occupying the property.

“We try to approach things in a holistic manner and go the full circle to resolve the problem.

“That’s as much as we can do. We will continue to pursue serial offenders and we will bring them through the courts but it’s something that we don’t have all the answers for and we can’t provide the full solution. Littering and dumping is something that we can’t battle on our own and we will work with community groups and voluntary groups and give them any assistance that we can.

“We’ll help individuals as well. If someone wants to make contact with us and organise a clean-up in their area we’re open to that,” he added.

You can contact Cork City Council’s Waste Operations on (021) 492 4299.

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