The Covid pandemic has led to a 'perfect storm' of dirty streets, the likes of which have not been seen in more than a decade, according to a nationwide litter survey by An Taisce.
Dublin, Galway and Limerick city centres were cited as faring particularly badly in the cleanliness survey commissioned by Irish Business Against Litter (IBAL), with all three urban centres losing their cleanliness status.
Not only has the level of cleanliness in a number of towns and cities dropped to the lowest level since 2007, the pandemic is being indirectly blamed for a number of waste issues, including the discarding of PPE masks and gloves on the streets.
Littering of bottles and cans, due to increased socialising and alcohol consumption outdoors, is also an issue, according to IBAL spokesman Conor Horgan.
"The rise in litter levels this year is across the board," Mr Horgan said.
"The Covid crisis has seen more dumping, more outdoor socialising, especially drinking, and PPE litter, but less cleaning by local authorities and less activity by volunteers like Tidy Towns.
"It is a perfect storm, in many ways, which has brought us to the worst position we've been in for over 10 years."
PPE litter is particularly prevalent, with masks five times more commonly discarded than gloves, he said.
"Understandably, people are reluctant to pick up these items for fear of contracting Covid, so they tend to stay on the ground. We need to see a rapid rise in the use of reusable masks," he said.
Mr Horgan added that local authorities have cut back on their cleaning schedules due to Covid restrictions, while households are generating more waste than normal as a result of the lockdown and people working from home. The closure of most pubs has seen a surge in people drinking alcohol outdoors and at home.
One positive aspect discovered by the survey is that the number of cigarette butts, which are so often littered on the streets outside pubs and offices, has been reduced.
But the lockdown has also led to people generating more waste and consequently leaving litter at half of all recycling centres.
Dublin ranked 34 out of 40 in the cleanliness scale. Although the city centre was deemed to be "moderately littered", Dublin's north inner city was ranked at the bottom of the litter league table as "seriously littered".
The Royal Canal at Ossory Road in Dublin's northside was also singled out for "major accumulations of food-related and other miscellaneous items within the water", while the Galvone Industrial Park in Limerick city was also cited for "dumping on a monumental scale" at its recycling facility.
"St Patrick's Park in Navan was described as "one of the worst sites seen by IBAL in recent years", with "heavy levels of dumping of large-scale household items such as mattresses, couches and black sacks."