Councillors Throw Around Ideas for Ways to Dampen Illegal Dumping

Sorcha Nic Mhathúna spotted the poem, scrawled on two pieces of paper and taped on the side of a street bin on South Circular Road in Dolphin’s Barn.

“Twinkle twinkle little star, please stop dumping whoever you are,” it read. Before telling the litterer to “put your litter in the can, to decrease the work for our bin man”.

“Must be effective as no rubbish beside the bin,” said Nic Mhathúna, last week.

Noticing illegal dumping around public bins isn’t new for residents like Nic Mhathúna, but she – like others – says she has remarked on an increase since the Covid-19 outbreak.

Says Green Party Councillor Janet Horner: “When I’m out and about there definitely is an increase in the dumping. The plastic gloves are everywhere.”

Some question whether the problem is more waste being dumped, or that the waste is more visible due to stretched council services. Either way, councillors have been throwing out suggestions for how to address it.

On The Rise?

There were 1,111 illegal-dumping service requests made to Dublin City Council in March 2020, up from 983 requests made in the same month last year according to Dublin City Council.

Declan Breen, a waste prevention officer for My Waste, a government initiative that guides people on managing waste, wonders if there is more dumping or fewer resources to clean up the streets, he says.

“We don’t actually know if there has been an increase of it or has there just been a decrease in the other services,” he says.

Independent Councillor Christy Burke says that he has had to alert the Dublin City Council of illegal dumping in his area every day since the country went on lockdown.

“It is a pandemic in the north inner city. Every single day for the last three to four weeks, I’ve been onto the public domain department, twice a day in some cases, to remove rubbish,” says Burke.

While the north inner city has previously had a problem with illegal dumping, the situation has worsened since the lockdown started, Burke says. “It’s at a crisis.”

Last week, Nic Mhathúna sent a photo of a bin in Kilmainham that is being used as an illegal dumpsite, too.

The bin is full. Extra rubbish is spread out in front of it: pizza boxes, stuffed black bags, and a beige handbag. The waste blocks part of the footpath.

This is not a normal amount, she says. “There might be three or four bags normally.”

Why More Dumping?

Households seem to be creating more waste, says Declan Breen, a waste prevention officer for My Waste, a government initiative that guides people on managing waste.

Part of that is a hangover from the early pandemic, says Breen. “If you just go back to now and the previous few weeks you’ll realise that people did panic-buy food.”

Waste collectors say there’s more going into brown bins, too – and people are buying more food with packaging because they want to make sure food isn’t contaminated, he says.

“They don’t want to buy loose things,” says Breen.

With the council’s services stretched, Breen wonders if there is more dumping or fewer resources to clean up the streets, he says.

“We don’t actually know if there has been an increase of it or has there just been a decrease in the other services,” he says.

“Street cleaning has decreased, the emptying of bins on streets doesn’t happen as regularly,” says Breen.

Burke, the independent councillor, says he thinks the uptick in dumped domestic waste is because those who would normally have dumped illegally have more waste at home to get rid of.

“It’s just people with a mindset, ‘Ah sure, I’m not going to pay and I don’t have to pay and I’m just going to dump’,” says Burke.

Others, though, point to the other side of the waste equation. Waste may be more visible on the streets because council resources are stretched, so it’s sitting for longer before being picked up.

“I think there is a bit of advantage being taken of,” says Lord Mayor and Fianna Fáíl Councillor Tom Brabazon.

On a green in Brabazon’s constituency, Donaghmede, he says, it took longer for the council to collect refuse bags last week than usual.

“Lo and behold, there was a couple of bags added to it and then there was twice the number of bags there than originally before. A lot of it wouldn’t have been legitimate material that was collected by the residents association over the weeks,” says Brabazon.

Brabazon says he was back up the road again this week and there was a whole load more of the bags, not the legitimate ones this time. “Basically people using this opportunity to put out their rubbish,” he says.

Council services are constrained, says Brabazon.

“The word from the council is that they don’t have the capacity to be dealing with the increase in illegal dumping at the moment,” says Horner, the Green Party councillor.

Big items left on the street are not being collected as regularly at the moment, she says.

This service requires two people to go round in a van which is not possible because of social distancing, says Horner.

The council has had to bring in precautions to keep staff who collect waste safe too.

Including new work schedules to allow for social distancing and new hygiene and safety protocols, said the council’s chief executive Owen Keegan in response to a recent query from People Before Profit Councillor Hazel De Nortúin.

On Monday, a spokesperson for the council said that: “All waste services are operating as normal in the Dublin City area.”

Those needing extra waste disposal should contact their private service provider, the spokesperson said.

“Waste companies have indicated that they may be able to provide additional short term options to customers who need assistance,” said a spokesperson for the council.

While in areas which use bag collection instead of wheelie bins, additional pre-paid bags can be presented for collection, the spokesperson said.

Nic Mhathúna, who lives in Kilmainham, says that the council is normally good for collecting illegally dumped rubbish. “They come quickly if you let them know about other rubbish that has been left.”

A spokesperson for Dublin City Council says they try to prevent illegal dumping in loads of ways.

With CCTV, door-to-door inspections, litter patrols, investigations of complaints received and investigations of dumped waste and illegal waste collection services, says a spokesperson.

The council also works with local schools, communities and businesses in anti litter and dumping programmes, says the spokesperson.

Dropping Off Waste?

Some councillors, too, though, feel that the closing bring centres since the lockdown has contributed to the increase in illegal dumping, they say.

Different bring centres accept different waste. Recycling facilities at Shamrock Terrace and Pigeon House Road accept household black bag waste for disposal but others don’t, said a spokesperson for the council.

Labour Councillor Mary Freehill says that councillors started that conversation with managers “because people are cleaning and getting rid of a lot of stuff in their houses because they have time to do it”.

The council should avoid handicapping people who are trying to dispose of their waste properly, says Freehill.

A council spokesperson said on Monday, that the council plans to reopen bring centres on a phased basis from 27 April.

Bring centres are being risk assessed first to make sure people can socially distance, they said.

Council bring centres were closed down on 28 March. The Ringsend Civic Amenity Site and North Strand Recycling Centre opened, but with restrictions, from 1 April.

“Traffic management measures are in place at both sites to ensure social distancing requirements are met,” said the spokesperson.

Will it help? “This may prove to be a success or may prove to be a lead balloon going down,” says Councillor Burke.

Illegal dumping will still continue even if bring centres are open 24/7, Burke says.

“You would still get the ruthless thugs who have no respect for their city and they will illegally dump,” he says.

It’s unclear whether those living outside of a 2km radius will be able to travel to bring centres, given current restrictions on leaving home.

“The defining, regulation, alteration or amendment of essential travel requirements is a matter for government,” said a council spokesperson.

Ways Forward

More generally, Breen says that this is a great opportunity to pay attention to how much waste your household produces.

“We are all at home so we get to see exactly how much we actually produce and how much packaging we buy,” he says.

Says Horner of the Green Party: “The council are just calling on people to take a bit more responsibility at the moment.”

Meanwhile, Councillor Burke has asked the manager to introduce more covert operations. As happens in Fingal, he says.

“I think put a car in an area with a guy or woman in civilian clothes and they are able to film somebody illegally dumping. You need drastic times for drastic measures,” says Burke.

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Donal Corrigan: Donal Corrigan is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. He covers transport, and the southside. To get in contact with him, you can email him on [email protected]

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