Thursday 21 February 2019

Walkers urged to 'leave no trace' as dumping continues to be an issue

Micheal Ó Domhnaill

With the days lengthening and more and more people getting out and about, it's important that each of us who walks the countryside respects the environment and that we leave it as we found it, for the next group of walkers to enjoy.

It's an unfortunate fact of life in Ireland that, where you've got scenic walks, on occasion you'll find some littering. Indiscriminate - and illegal - dumping is not just confined to one county, and is a growing national problem.

Most walkers abide by the Leave No Trace philosophy, whereby you bring home the wrapper for your sandwich or chocolate bar and dispose of it in the correct bin. But let's not get above ourselves here, for those looking for the high moral ground, blaming certain groups or individuals can very often be the thin edge of the wedge when it comes to discussing Ireland's litter problem.

While there is no doubt but that littering is an issue that can effect all counties in different ways, what is not in doubt is that patrolling areas, especially rural locations where many of our most scenic walks are located, is an increasing thorn in the side of the authorities.

Just last year, Sligo County Council removed over 35 tonnes of rubbish from Tullycusheen bog near Tubbercurry in the south of the county, only for more rubbish to appear soon afterwards in a nearby location.

Altogether, 4 different sites were cleaned up, at a cost of over €45,000, but to little or no lasting effect. We may guess that this selfish behaviour is carried out by a few individuals, but the fact remains that as a nation we are more likely to expect someone else to clean up after us than we are to deal with our rubbish ourselves.

Siobhán Gillen is Administrative Officer for Water and Environmental services with Sligo County Council, and she says that if you are out walking and come across illegal dumping - especially in rural locations - it's important to contact the Council as soon as possible to avoid the problem spiralling.

"Don't ignore it, let us know about it, because unfortunately, littering attracts further litter. If there are black bags spotted, all of a sudden you could see twenty bags there. So it's important to let us know sooner rather than later," she told Sligo Walks.

Sligo has two litter wardens who have the unenviable task of patrolling the entire county, and their efforts are added to by a number of waste enforcement officers. Pete Murtagh is Environmental Awareness Officer with Sligo County Council and he says that despite both publicity campaigns and prosecutions, the number of incidents of dumping hasn't significantly reduced.

"There's still a reluctance on the part of some people to pay for their waste but we all need to contribute our fair share and pay for the disposal of the waste we produce," he says.

"When it comes to pride of place, we need to acknowledge that the community clean ups by Tidy Towns and other organizations are of massive benefit to us, but why does it take people from a community to clean up the mess created by some of their neighbours?," he adds.

"More and more people are getting involved in community clean ups, and it's getting more socially unacceptable for people to dump. It's a slow process but working together and education are key to cleaning up the locality and having an appreciation for the communities we live in."

A new campaign to educate people in relation to disposing of their waste is soon to be rolled out by Sligo County Council, and homeowners are reminded that there are cheaper ways of legitimately disposing of rubbish, such as bringing your waste to the disposal centres, recycling their rubbish, and schemes such as bin-sharing are also available.

But for those who use unlicensed operators - the proverbial man in a van - they may well receive unwelcome news.

According to Siobhán Gillen, these unscrupulous people will often find the nearest rural lane to dump your rubbish. "Unless they have a permit, they could just be taking your waste and dumping it in a bog. Unfortunately, if we find your address (among the rubbish), it's you that is going to be prosecuted, not the person who has taken your waste away."

So, if we can report incidents of dumping to the authorities as soon as we come across them, and ensure we bring home our own rubbish, we will help raise awareness of just how unacceptable a practice this is. As locals or visitors to Sligo, we all want to enjoy the beautiful countryside that surrounds us, so let's all take an important step towards ensuring that Sligo is there for all to enjoy.

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Sligo Champion