At the corner of Dunne Street, off Portland Row in Dublin 1, a split black plastic rubbish bag sits atop a tatty green parka coat next to a half-eaten bag of chips.
In the 19-degree heat, it might not be too long before it all starts to smell. Unless it’s collected and sent to one of the city’s rubbish tips.
For one group of active citizens, six years of reporting this kind of illegal dumping in the inner city doesn’t seem to have made a dent.
So they’ve now given up.
Thousands of Images
Dublin Litter Blog went online in June 2012 to document a deteriorating litter situation in Dublin 1, Dublin 3 and Dublin 7.
It was triggered by the privatisation of waste services in 2010, says co-founder Eoin Parker.
He and a couple of friends designed the website so that local residents could easily report litter or illegal dumping to Dublin City Council, which is responsible for dealing with it.
Over six years, the blog got 5,500 photos and reported 3,500 incidents to FixYourStreet, a site where people can report issues on their street to the council. These could include issues like include potholes, street lighting and graffiti.
Most recently the blog received images of rubbish bags dumped at Great Western Square in Phibsboro and of the “famous, consequence-free collection spot” in D7, Derrynane Parade.
They just wanted to put their “shoulders to the wheel, help out with civic duty, and do what we could to work towards a cleaner city”, said Parker. They weren’t paid.
Now, numerous meetings with councillors and council officials later, Parker and his collaborators have given up.
They’ve all moved away from Dublin 1, Dublin 3 and Dublin 7, partly because of the rubbish on the streets.
“Bringing our children to school every morning through piles of rubbish, including syringes, dirty nappies, broken bottles […] became too much to bear,” said Parker.
Parker says he thinks the best way to combat illegal inner-city dumping is for local residents “to tackle the problem themselves”.
Some say, however, that it’s still the council’s fight.
Same Old Story
Between 2012 and 2018 when the blog was active, the council’s Central Area Office dealt with 14,148 complaints of illegal dumping, said Environmental Liaison Officer Robert Ingram.
In 2017, the council inspected 2,432 streets, collected 6,147 bags, investigated 5,931 bags and issued 242 fines in the Central area alone, Ingram said by email.
Litter wardens have also carried out surveys on over 4,702 properties in the Central Area, when they suspect a household might not be paying to dispose of its waste. But the problem persists.
Worker’s Party Councillor Eilís Ryan says that illegal dumping is the number-one thing her constituents in the north inner city complain about.
“It’s frustrating,” she says. “I’m not sure there’s really anything productive to be said about it.”
The city needs public waste collection, like it used to have, rather than private bin companies, says Ryan, who argues that privatisation has led to fewer collections and higher fees.
The council ramped up its efforts to tackle illegal dumping two years ago, and it’s time acknowledge that the current arrangements are not working, she says.
“If you catch somebody illegally dumping they should be punished,” she says. But “this money that we’re spending on investigating who’s doing it and collecting the bags should be spent on a public service”.
Name and Shame
In 2016, the council experimented with naming and shaming those who dumped waste illegally.
It put in 26 cameras each year in different areas to try to identify and, after that, contact people who were illegally leaving rubbish around, said the council’s Ingram.
Images on billboards of illegal dumpers were displayed in the locations where they had dumped their garbage.
Sinn Féin Councillor Janice Boylan says more money and more staff are both key to dealing with illegal dumping. “I’m caught between a rock and a hard place with it,” she says.
For some residents of her north-inner city constituency, a bin service is another bill they struggle to pay. “There are people in private-rented accommodation who just can’t afford it. They’ll try and empty their rubbish into their mam or da’s bin.”
And council staff, faced with illegal dumping, “do the best they can given the resources they have”, Boylan says. There also aren’t really consequences for illegal dumpers.
“The council has a terrible time trying to get convictions,” she says. “People do it because they’ve gotten away with it a couple of times.”
There should be tougher penalties for bin operators who fail to collect rubbish, says independent Councillor Christy Burke.
“At the end of the day, I’d love to see the service back with the council,” he said. “But I don’t see it happening.”
Councillors have struggled to keep an eye on what is happening with waste collection in the city.
In 2016, when it looked as if charges for green bins were going to go up, the council’s environment subcommittee asked the four largest bin companies to come and talk to them.
The companies have yet to accept the invitation, says Solidarity Councillor Michael O’Brien. “They’ve just ignored it.”
Parker, formerly of the Dublin Litter Blog, suggests that more tech might be needed if local residents are looking to deal with the problem themselves.
Battery-powered CCTV is “much cheaper in recent years”, he says. Perhaps, it’s something residents’ associations could seek funding for, from the council.
Ingram says the council’s Central Area is working with two CCTV operators to try to come up with something like that, a prototype for a CCTV-like device that can work on a solar cell or low-power battery.Says Parker: “We’ve gone above and beyond in terms of personal effort and nothing came of it.”
The images and website will stay up, though, he says, “as a lasting document of the shambles that was created”.