A fee on the disposal of black bags of household waste at civic centres in Meath, which was waived last Friday in a bid to curb illegal dumping, had to be reintroduced today after huge crowds made social distancing impossible.
Crowds of up to 4,000 people over four days with almost 5,000 bags of refuse queued for up to one kilometer at times to access the civic amenity centres at Navan, Kells and Trim since the €5 per bag charged was temporarily suspended last Friday.
The initiative was started to try and tackle the spike in illegal dumping, mainly black bin bags of household waste, which has been dumped at county roadsides since Covid-19 restrictions began.
However, Meath Co. Council with advice from local gardai decided to reinstate the charge to protect staff and the public, after the crowds made social distancing impossible to maintain.
Meath Co. Council believe that the spike in illegal dumping is because people can no longer bring their waste to dispose of at their workplace or bring it to a shared bin at their parents house.
The council's environmental officer Bernadine Carry says that although the reintroduction of the fee was regrettable, it was vital that the civic centres remained open for regular users.
"It's very disappointing that we have had to reinstate the charges but the high volume of crowds over the four days made social distancing impossible and put the health of our staff and the public at possible risk of Covid-19," she said.
"We also have a duty of care to the thousands of householders who don't have a kerbside collection service and use the civic amenity sites to recycle all their waste, including depositing a few bags of residual waste regularly.
"Staff at the sites have told us of queues of cars of over a half a kilometer long waiting to access the sites and cars packed with up to 20 bags of household waste.
"We might have managed to socially distance up to 750 people a day but definitely not two and a half times that volume of people"
However Ms Carry believes that the waiver was also misused to get rid of more bulky waste
I suspect a lot of this waste that was deposited for free would have otherwise ended up along the country roads. I also believe that instead of waiting for our free recycle days, there were carpets that were cut up and put into the black bags to get rid of.
"There has been a huge spike in illegal dumping in the last six weeks, like recessionary times. I believe a lot of it is by people who were getting rid of their household rubbish at work in offices and construction sites or sharing a bin with parents that they no longer have access to because of Covid-19 restrictions.
"Unfortunately, they are just dumping the rubbish at the side of the road for us to clean up and our litter wardens are genuinely distraught with volumes dumped in rivers and other scenic areas.
"On average, Meath Co. Council spends about €2.5m a year on litter and waste clean-up and disposal but it looks like that figure may be a lot higher this year.
"While we look at other ways to help people get rid of their waste, we urge public vigilance in relation to illegal dumping. Report anyone you see and if you have to use a waste collector, make sure they have a valid permit, which can be checked on nwcpo.ie"