IBAL litter survey shows most beaches not clean

But litter ‘blackspots’ disappearing around our coasts

The annual survey of coasts and inland waterways by business group Irish Business Against Litter (IBAL) shows our most littered areas to have cleaned up over the past year. However, the study of 33 areas nationwide revealed the majority of beaches falling short of clean status, despite the unsettled summer meaning lower visitor numbers.    

Beaches, harbours, rivers and their immediate environs were monitored by An Taisce in June and July. While there was a 50% rise in clean sites overall, the survey again found our coastal areas to be more littered than our towns, which IBAL researches as part of its Anti-Litter League programme.

The popular beaches at Portmarnock and Lahinch deteriorated to ‘littered’ status,as did Dog’s Bay in Galway, while those at Bundoran, Ballybunion, Skerries and Strandhill were deemed ‘moderately littered’. Clean beaches included Killiney, Salthill and Tramore, as well as Brittas Bay and Curracloe in Wexford, which both improved on last year.   

“Over an unsettled summer, where our beaches attracted far fewer numbers than normal, one might have expected the majority to be virtually free of litter,” says Conor Horgan of IBAL.  “Unfortunately, this does not reflect the state of our coastal environment. There is much ‘long lie’ litter and waste coming in from the sea, and this is compounded by litter from those who continue to frequent our coastline despite the inclement weather.”

Cleaning up the blackspots

For the first time since IBAL commenced its coastal surveys in 2017, no area was deemed a litter blackspot. Blackrock Castle (Cork Harbour), a blackspot in in all previous IBAL surveys, improved to littered, as did White’s Bay in Cork and the Tolka River at Annesley Bridge in Dublin. There was a positive turnaround at Grand Canal Dock in Dublin, previously ‘heavily littered’, which was judged ‘moderately littered’. 

“Volunteers such as the Blackrock Clean up Group and Clean Coasts Ballynamona at White’s Bay have seen their trojan work in recent years bear fruit in this study. There appears to be stronger collaboration between these groups and the relevant local authority in targeting these areas,” commented Conor Horgan. 

The disappearance of litter blackspots around our coasts mirrors a trend evident also in the IBAL survey of towns and cities. “An obvious starting point in cleaning up our country is to target the most littered areas. This is clearly happening.”

Rise of the vapes

Despite the unsettled weather, there was little fall-off in the most prevalent types of litter on our coastline – cigarette butts, sweet wrappers, fast food wrapping and plastic bottles. Coffee cups were present in almost half of sites.

Disposable vapes were revealed as an emerging form of litter, encountered in 1 in 7 of all visits, making them significantly more common on our beaches than on our streets.

“This time last year we were not seeing this form of litter at all, so its rapid emergence is worrying. So, too, is its impact on our environment,” warns Conor Horgan. IBAL favours the banning of disposable vapes, which, it contends, run counter to the notion of a circular economy. Vapes contain electronics, chemical waste and single-use plastic which breaks down into microparticles, endangering sea life. “At a time when we are urgently trying to reduce plastic pollution in our oceans, the emergence of vapes is concerning.”  Research shows the number of disposable vapes sold each year in the US would stretch for over 7,000 miles.^ 

IBAL credits the Clean Coasts programme, which supports over 2,000 volunteer groups, as a major force in ridding our coasts of litter throughout the year. Its annual ‘Big Beach Clean’ takes place nationwide each September. The continued rise in volunteer groups, now in excess of 40,000, reflects the growing public concern around the marine environment.   

“Coastal litter is unsightly and unhygienic, and deters visitors to our shores. Less evident, but more disturbing, is its impact on our sea life, which in turn threatens the very sustainability of our planet,” comments Conor Horgan.

^ U.S. PIRG Education Fund

For further information contact Conor Horgan on 086 8217211 or [email protected]

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