Friday 30 September 2016

It's time we stopped blaming others for our litter problem

Published 16/07/2015 | 02:30

'The Irish have traditionally had a reputation for being a dirty, slovenly race and while we are quick to react with snarling fury whenever foreigners paint us in a less than flattering light, it would appear that, if anything, we're becoming even messier'
'The Irish have traditionally had a reputation for being a dirty, slovenly race and while we are quick to react with snarling fury whenever foreigners paint us in a less than flattering light, it would appear that, if anything, we're becoming even messier'

A couple of years ago, a good friend of mine made a short visit to Greece. His beloved Shamrock Rovers were playing against PAOK Thessaloniki and some fans went to a local restaurant on the day of the match. More than the football, he remembered the rubbish-strewn streets and the way the local rats and stray cats had all grown to a gargantuan size due to the rich pickings in the unclaimed bags.

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When asked why there was so much rubbish outside his establishment, the owner shrugged and said that official refuse collections hadn't happened in weeks. When it was suggested that he could surely clear up some of the mess himself, the owner was horrified. "That's the government's job," was the baffled response - as if cleaning up his own business was some sort of crazy idea spouted by an even crazier Irish man.

Unfortunately, plenty of Irish people will side with that Greek restaurateur, which is why the idea of new fines for individuals and businesses who are caught illegally dumping rubbish is to be welcomed, if only guardedly.

People are already paying too much in the myriad taxes and levies which have been magicked out of thin air in the last few years. However, the idea of punishing the miscreants is surely better than simply slapping another recycling tax on those of us who actually clean up after ourselves.

Of course, it's easy to blame local authorities for not providing enough bins and not regularly emptying the ones they have provided, but when it comes to taking responsibility for the mess we make, many of us turn into that Greek restaurant owner and argue that it's the government's job.

The thing is, it's not.

Just because you pay taxes (and why do people boast that they pay their taxes as if they deserve a medal?) doesn't absolve you of the responsibility to leave your environment as you found it, or even cleaner if possible.

We may not be enjoying the kind of summer we had hoped for - not yet, at least - but you just know that as soon as people start hitting the beach, the airwaves will be full of people complaining about the litter.

Callers will also defend their habit of leaving their rubbish behind - as one woman told Liveline last year, she left her children's dirty nappies on the beach because she didn't want to stink up her car on the way home.

Sadly, that attitude, which places personal convenience over civic pride, is not a minority view. In fact, a 10-minute walk through most of the streets and towns of this country will be enough to send any civic-minded citizen into a tailspin of depression and frustration.

The Irish have traditionally had a reputation for being a dirty, slovenly race and while we are quick to react with snarling fury whenever foreigners paint us in a less than flattering light, it would appear that, if anything, we're becoming even messier. What's worse, we're also becoming more belligerent and defensive when called out for our actions.

I've lost count of the number of times I've offered a pooper scooper bag to fellow dog owners who allow their pet to foul the streets. Much of the time they are happy (or embarrassed) to be offered a bag, but they're also just as likely to reply with a volley of abuse. You wouldn't allow your child to defecate on the street, so why do people still think it's acceptable to allow your dog to do that?

The problem - and it is a real and genuine problem - is that so many people have been brought up with a sense of total entitlement which ensures they are experts on their own rights, but indifferent to their responsibilities and obligations.

If we accept that we all have a collective obligation to be as tidy as possible when in a public space, it becomes clear that anyone who litters is giving us all a two-fingered salute; a gesture of contempt to the rest of us schmucks who bother to clean up.

We have some remarkable scenery in this country.

What a pity we don't deserve it.

Irish Independent

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