Urban litter still on the rise as Naas triumphs in 2021 IBAL league

  • ‘Grim reading’ as main cities deteriorate further
  • Councils failing to address rising number of heavily littered sites
  • PPE litter at highest levels since pandemic

Naas has been crowned Ireland’s cleanest town for 2021 by business group Irish Business Against Litter (IBAL). Its latest survey of 40 towns and cities showed nationwide litter levels having risen slightly, with cities again faring particularly badly. PPE litter was found to be at its highest level since the pandemic began.

Naas finished ahead of Portlaoise and Ennis to record its first win in the annual rankings. An Taisce, who conduct the surveys on behalf of IBAL, found every site examined in the Kildare town to be “virtually free of litter”. The ‘spotless’ waterside environment at Harbour View, Fairgreen Recycle Facility and Shopping Arcade off North Main Street came in for particular praise. There was a slight fall in the number of clean towns nationwide, to 22.

At the foot of the table, Dublin’s North Inner City showed some improvement but was branded a litter blackspot. The worst areas included the Canal at Spencer Dock, with “fencing, old bicycles and discarded domestic items” among the litter in the water, Crinian Strand, where “huge swathes of all manner of litter were strewn along the pavement, along with bags of rubbish”, and Aldborough Place, where “bags of rubbish dominated”.

Galvone in Limerick city improved significantly, rising 6 places in the rankings, but the urban areas of Ballymun, Tallaght and Cork Northside all fell back.  

Cork and Limerick City Centres, both littered, showed a deterioration on the previous survey, while Dublin City Centre fell to heavily littered. Galway City lost its clean status, leaving Waterford as the country’s only clean city.   

“Frankly, there are few positives to draw from this survey when it comes to our main cities, says IBAL’s Conor Horgan. “Other than Limerick’s Galvone and Ballybeg in Waterford, the An Taisce reports make for grim reading. Covid is certainly a factor but it alone cannot explain a negative underlying trend of recent years in the cleanliness of our urban areas.”   

PPE litter on the increase

The report showed PPE litter at record levels, with an increase in the presence of both masks and gloves. “It would appear that this litter is accumulating as the pandemic continues, as there remains an understandable reticence to pick up other people’s PPE,” says Conor Horgan. “The disposable blue face mask has become a ubiquitous part of the landscape up and down the country. People have not moved to reusable masks and people are not taking care of their masks.” International research* has found PPE litter accounting for as much as 5% of all litter, and likely to have “a devastating, lasting effect on the environment”. Mask use is forecast to remain high into 2022.

There was a significant rise in other pandemic-related litter, such as coffee cups, while alcohol-related litter remained at previous levels despite hospitality reopening and the survey being conducted in winter.

IBAL has frequently criticised the failure of local authorities to clean up sites identified in its surveys as heavily littered, and this was again the case. Of 89 such sites highlighted in summer last year, only 33% had been addressed by the time of this most recent survey.     

“In our last study we flagged litter in our cities as having reached levels not seen in 10 years. Unfortunately, recent months have only brought further deterioration. Our towns are much cleaner than they were say 15 years ago, but it seems our cities have reverted to the bad old days of the noughties, with litter the norm rather than the exception,” concludes Conor Horgan.

2021 was the 19th year of the IBAL Anti-Litter League.