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Independent.ie

Thursday 19 October 2017

Opinion: Strong measures needed to combat growing menace of illegal dumping

 

The countryside is blighted by illegal dumping. Stock picture
The countryside is blighted by illegal dumping. Stock picture
Ann Fitzgerald

Ann Fitzgerald

After writing a column last year about dog fouling in my nearby town of Abbeyleix, word filtered through that the secretary of the local Tidy Towns committee, Mary White, wanted to talk to me.

When we did connect, I feared I was going to be taken to task for my comments.

But I was pleasantly surprised (and a little relieved) when Mary said that she totally agreed with what I had said.

What a mature and pragmatic reaction! It would have been very easy to shoot the messenger. But she instead said that they were already working on a plan to deal with the problem. Concerned local dog owners subsequently took charge of the initiative.

It was no surprise, then, that Abbeyleix recently emerged as county winner in the 2017 Tidy Towns competition.

The beautiful heritage town also recently secured a Silver Medal in the 2017 Entente Florale Europe competition, which aims to promote and greener and more pleasant environment in European towns and villages. Ireland's other entry, Glaslough, Co Monaghan, won a Gold.

In the same competition, Abbeyleix Bog - which is managed by a community-based voluntary organisation and encompasses an area of almost 500 acres of diverse habitats including degraded (but recovering) raised bog and woodland - won the President's Prize for the best biodiversity project.

Hearty congratulations to all concerned.

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I was also delighted to see the petite Tipperary village of Birdhill win the overall Tidy Towns prize. It's now by-passed, so I, like most people, rarely drive through it, but I happened to be down that part of the country last week, so I had a look. Even after all the rain, it still looked stunning.

One of the things that jumped out at me was the appearance of its grass margins. There was a mown strip along the road to show that it's being managed, but the remainder was untouched, to maximise its biodiversity value.

There was a time that such margins would be seen as untidy, but they are now incentivised in the Tidy Towns marking. The best way to change behaviour is through incentive.

In various interviews by chairman of the local committee, Denis Floyd, the common thread was gratitude to the many volunteers from all walks of life who dedicate so much of their time to making their village beautiful - in more of a Rose of Tralee kind of way than a Miss World.

Their pride of place is in stark contrast to the action which led to a phone call I got last week from a farmer in my native county of Limerick.

When he had gone out that morning to check cattle on an out-farm, he found that a couple of black bin bags had been chucked in over the hedge.

One bag that was torn up by the cattle contained nappies, glass bottles, food cans, cigarette packets and horse hair. Another bag was full of horse dung. That one wasn't so bad. He just tipped it out on the field.

Some people may blame their illegal dumping on increased disposal costs, but those responsible still have money for cigarettes - and some of this stuff can be recycled for free.

Figures released earlier this year show that an estimated 60 tonnes of waste is illegally dumped in Ireland every day, and the problem seems to be getting worse, not better.

So what can be done?

In the short-term, if waste has been dumped on your land, it is vital to have the rubbish removed as quickly as possible. Once one bag is dropped, it acts like a magnet for other dumpers.

In the longer term, there is no one simple solution.

I said above that incentives are the best way to achieve results but they only work when you are pushing an open door.

Has the time come when everyone receiving any State payment would have to produce evidence that their household rubbish is being responsibly disposed of?

A carrot works on willing people - unwilling ones need a stick.


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