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Mask littering a big problem

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A discarded mask at Riverside, a common scene along the streets of Sligo

A discarded mask at Riverside, a common scene along the streets of Sligo

A discarded mask in a plastic bag on Stephen Street

A discarded mask in a plastic bag on Stephen Street

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A discarded mask at Riverside, a common scene along the streets of Sligo

With face coverings mandatory in shops, hair salons and many more settings, they are now a common sight, unfortunately though, discarded masks are now increasingly becoming a problem.

According to Environment Officer with Sligo County Council, Peter Murtagh, mask littering is something the local authority has noticed an increase in.

"It's not something that has been particularly brought to our attention as such but I've seen it myself and from speaking to the litter warden he has seen it also. It's a new type of litter. Facemasks and gloves are so common that it was inevitable it was going to be littered at some stage but it is very visible," said Mr Murtagh.

He said because face masks aren't the average litter item, more often than not they are more noticeable.

"If you see a crisp packet on the ground you might not pay too much attention to it because people are used to it, but when you see a facemask discarded on the ground it kind of makes you stop for a second and look and go, 'well somebody was wearing that to protect themselves and the public from Covid and they've just discarded it there'."

Murtagh says the message to people about littering comes down to personal responsibility.

"It's up to the individual to make sure that they dispose of it properly."

Another way he sees as tackling the issue is promoting the use of reusable masks.

"Most of those masks would have an element of plastic in them, all of those types of materials now, most of them would be derived from plastic. This is another type of single use plastic. If we can substitute the use of disposable masks for reusable then that's something that's desirable. We would like to try and promote reusable masks, and it's cheaper in the long run."

Speaking of littering in general, the environmental officer said it's something that was a problem pre-Covid, but, with staycationers using public amenities more this year, littering is taking its toll on the council's resources.

"We've seen huge numbers of people using the beaches and the parks and all the walkways, the numbers have been massive. What goes along with that unfortunately is an increase in littering.

To tackle this the local authority has increased patrols and servicing of bins, but there is only a certain amount of staff available.

"There are only a certain amount of hands to bring to the pump so we have to put that message out that if you're going for a walk or to the beach, or if the bins are full they should be bringing waste home with them.

The local authority is flat out and doing all we can, but we are relying on citizens to be responsible and respect their own environments."

Mr Murtagh also acknowledged that the pandemic had also impacted many large scale clean ups such as the national spring clean.

Sligo Champion