Dirty old town: how do we stop littering in Cork city black-spots?

Where does the mentality of thinking it's acceptable to throw your rubbish around come from? So asks Kathriona Devereux in her weekly column
Dirty old town: how do we stop littering in Cork city black-spots?

38th place out of 40 in a national litter survey is not an acceptable place for Cork city to be, says Kathriona Devereux

REPETITION seems to be a big part of parenting. Common refrains in our house are “close the door”, “put on your slippers” and “put your bowl in the sink”.

Despite daily reminders, there are just some instructions that are impossible for my children to retain and go in one ear and out the other, to be repeated the next day and the day after until…when?!

There are tones of an exasperated parent in the latest Irish Business Against Litter (IBAL) report about Cork’s performance at keeping the place tidy and litter free.

Much of the city centre received A or B grades when it came to cleanliness but there are a few locations where litter problems were highlighted years ago.

The report says “many of the heavily littered sites have been this way for quite some time and have been noted in previous IBAL surveys”. 

“An obvious and heavy litter presence prevailed along this road” (emphasis added). And “no improvement at this site - it has been subject to dumping for quite some time”, “no change from previous surveys”, and on it goes.

Behind those measured sentences, I can hear a well intentioned report writer pulling their hair out, and screaming at the computer, “I’ve said all this before, why don’t you listen and do something. I said clean up Kennedy Quay back in 2017. Go get some black bags and sort it out, for the love of God!”

Despite top marks for locations like Patrick Street, Anglesea Street, Shalom Park, The Lough and Bus Station - “A credit to the station - staff” - all three surveyed areas, Cork City Centre, Cork Mahon and Cork Northside, placed in the ‘Moderately Littered’, ‘Littered’ or ‘Seriously Littered’ categories.

Meanwhile, top of the pile locations like Naas, Kilkenny and Maynooth are ‘Cleaner than European Norms’.

Considering people from Cork are known for being vocal about how great Cork is, you have to wonder if our excessive pride in our home place is misplaced, given a sizeable chunk of the population clearly have no respect for the city.

Maybe the street cleaners who keep the city centre clean (thank you!) should take a week off so we get a real sense of how dirty we are.

I am slow to call somebody out when I witness blatant littering. I passed a young fella recently who opened a packet of cigarettes as he walked along the road, shedding plastic and paper as he went. He was oblivious both to his dirty behaviour and the dirty look I was throwing at him.

I didn’t want a confrontation so didn’t say anything, but maybe I should have deployed one of my best mammy lines, “Who do you think is going to clean up after you?”

If the City Council didn’t have to direct so much energy and resources at keeping on top of the day to day litter, maybe they’d be able to tackle the persistently bad areas that crop up year after year on the IBAL survey, dragging down our overall score and generating such bad publicity.

Areas like the North Ring Road and Kennedy Quay won’t be cleaned up without proper engagement with the area and a new plan for managing the problems there.

City Council can’t be responsible for everything though. Having pride in our own patch of place is important too - if there’s a crisp packet and sodden discarded face mask outside your door, or rolling around on your road, just pick it up. Someone has to, so it might as well be you.

When I was a Northsider, I used to occasionally take part in Blarney Street’s Saturday morning street clean-up. Community clean-ups are fantastic initiatives that deliver much more than clean streets. Opportunities to meet your neighbours and do something tangibly worthwhile together are very welcome these days.

I used to be appalled at the number of black bags we would fill over the course of two hours. Crisp and chocolate wrappers, plastic bottles, and cigarette butts were the dominant forms of litter. Items that could easily, and should have been stuffed in a pocket or held in hand until the next bin presented itself.

Some Saturday mornings, though, I’d be down-hearted and disgusted by the mess created by what must be, a sizeable minority.

Cleaning up is important, but stopping the source of the mess is too. 

Where does the mentality of thinking it’s acceptable to throw your rubbish around come from?

Lots of people have an opinion on where the fault lies and who is to blame, everything from privatised bin collection to an insufficient number of bins outside the city centre. Is the cost of living crisis leading to an increase in dumping as people try to avoid refuse charges? Or do some people think waste collection is simply something they shouldn’t have to pay for and are willing to throw their waste wherever they want?

To avoid a repetition of these IBAL scores next year, we need to fully understand the varying factors at play and tackle them imaginatively, because 38th place out of 40 in a national litter survey is not an acceptable place for Cork city to be.

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