News Comment

Wednesday 3 September 2014

Don't let ignorance of litter louts cloud these sunny days

Graham Clifford

Published 21/06/2014 | 02:30

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A whopping 80pc of beach litter comes from land-based activities, such as picnicking and recreation. Photo: Steve Humphreys
A whopping 80pc of beach litter comes from land-based activities, such as picnicking and recreation. Photo: Steve Humphreys

At beaches in Howth, Portmarnock and Galway during the latest heatwave, families witnessed brawling youths and public drinking when they hoped to simply enjoy a joyous afternoon on the coast.

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Gardai have had to patrol beaches and temporarily suspend public transport services in some parts of the country in a bid to prevent escalating public disorder.

It's claimed teenage gangs are orchestrating 'flash bash' beach battles on social media.

Even in more remote parts of the country the behaviour of younger sun-seekers leaves a lot to be desired.

During the week I brought my three-year-old son Aodhan to visit a local lake as the temperature tipped 25 degrees.

With ice-cream in hand we climbed the bank to the stunning Knockananig Reservoir near Fermoy. But as we reached the top of the hill we found crisp packets, lager cans, sweet wrappers and cigarette boxes strewn around the lake's shoreline.

It was one of those gut-wrenchingly disappointing moments when you find yourself almost winded by the mindlessness of others.

Plastic bottles floated in water.

"Who put those here, dad?" asked Aodhan, looking at the crisp packets and half expecting someone to come and retrieve them – a baffled look across his little face.

Fuming that someone would treat this beautiful countryside with such disrespect, I returned to my car, grabbed a few bags, and filled them with other people's rubbish.

When I should have been enjoying a wonderful summer's day with my little boy, I was, instead, shoveling half-drunk cans of beer and plastic wrappers into bags, which I brought home.

Only weeks earlier I found myself doing the same thing at a playground by a beach in east Cork.

Last summer, I discovered a pile of used nappies near Ballybunion beach. Once I had dropped my family by the seafront I returned to the spot, loaded the nappies into a black bag and found the nearest bin.

I pick up rubbish because I know it's unlikely anyone else will and I'd rather get my hands dirty than look at such appalling scenes.

Of course I'd prefer that we didn't have to pick up other people's discarded items but I can't bring myself to walk on by. Sadly littering is alive and well in Ireland. Just look at any packed beach on these sweltering summer days and you'll spot the ice-cream wrappers, cans of cider and empty sun-protection bottles long after the sun-seekers have gone home.

How anyone can walk away and leave rubbish behind is beyond me. Is it laziness or ignorance?

Do they have the attitude that someone is paid to come along and pick up their litter?

If this is the thought process then I'm afraid it's wildly inaccurate.

Litter wardens are also now traffic wardens, in some cases park wardens too. There's more chance of Scooby-Doo himself popping out of the bushes and picking up your discarded cigarette box once dropped as there is an employee of the local council.

How often, especially in the good weather or if there's been an event nearby, do you see bins so full they can't take any more?

Indeed, the local councils perpetuate the national apathy to littering.

We need more than an advertising campaign every now and again, our children must be educated as to the impact of the act.

Sure there are laws in place to warn citizens of the penalties applicable should you be caught littering . . . but how often are they enforced?

The gardai too have the power to issue fines for litter offences – but I've never seen anyone stopped by a garda for such an offence.

And what of those who come across litter but walk on by?

If we all took part in the clean-up wouldn't the country be a better place for it? For many, the very notion of picking up another's litter is laughable – why should they? – they didn't put it there.

They 'should' because it's the right thing to do and it benefits everyone – much in the same way you don't have to help old ladies across the road but society smiles (as does the lady herself) when you do.

No one likes littering but don't just complain about it. Get a bag, roll up your sleeves and do your bit.

If you're waiting for others to pick up the rubbish on your street then you could be very disappointed, so take action yourself.

It's also a great lesson for your children and may encourage others to do the same.

In an ideal Ireland none of us would litter – out of respect for our communities, country and each other – but with poor enforcement of litter laws and indifference from councils and society in general, the practice shamefully continues – especially when the sun shines.

Irish Independent

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