It’s time to capitalise on cleanliness of cities

Irish Business Against Litter’s annual Anti-Litter League results have been delivering good news in the first week of January for a number of years now.

From being one of the most littered countries in Europe back in 2002, when only two towns were deemed ‘litter-free’, we have seen year-on-year improvement in the cleanliness of our towns and cities. This progress is reflected in the results.

It is now time that we exploit this success to the economic good of these towns and cities. IBAL is proposing a ‘Clean Flag’ — along the lines of the well-established Blue Flag.

We’ve termed the success of the IBAL programme a quiet revolution, and I don’t believe that is an exaggeration. Over 80% of towns are now as clean as or cleaner than European equivalents. That represents a transformation over the past 12 years which is not appreciated fully. The fact is, people tend to notice litter, not the absence of it.

The good news this year is that all of our cities are clean, including, for the first time, Dublin. Given the importance of our capital in terms of population, commerce and tourism, this is a watershed moment in our crusade against litter. We could never talk of Ireland being clean when Dublin itself was not clean.

Cork City, too, can be proud of achieving ‘clean to European norms’ status this morning, even if it is the least clean of our cities. An Taisce inspectors praised the city centre streets such as St Patrick’s St, Oliver Plunkett St, and Pembroke St as ‘excellent’. That is pleasing, as most visitors to the city are exposed to these areas. On the other hand, the two litter blackspots which brought down the city’s ranking, have been highlighted previously — these are an area at Victoria Cross near County Hall and the North Ring Rd.

As An Taisce states, there are “long-term litter issues here which need to be tackled”, but by concentrating efforts on these and other blackspots the authority could bring Cork up the rankings very quickly.

Recycling facilities emerged as among the most littered sites in our survey. They generally need special attention as they tend to attract litter. This was the case in Cork, too, at Ballyvolane Shopping Centre and the ironically named Vita Clean, both of which were seriously littered.

Cork has lots to offer both the tourist and the prospective investor. All parties concerned — the local authority, the business community and the residents — should aim to be cleaner than our capital.

Both cities suffer from high litter levels in pockets where unemployment is high, and a high degree of social deprivation prevails.

The major disappointment in this morning’s results is that Dublin’s inner city has not budged from its status as a litter blackspot.

Knocknaheeny in Cork, which has been surveyed for a number of years, likewise failed to improve in tandem with most areas across the country.

We cannot ignore these areas just because they are outside the main tourist areas of the city.

With council resources ever tighter, and the need for every council to prioritise, it is a real concern that these areas will become even further neglected. Let’s not forget that a clean environment is not all about tourism and business. Residents, too, have the right to clean, tidy streets, parks, and public places.

These areas aside, litterfree has become the norm rather than the exception for towns in Ireland. So how do we capitalise on this success economically? With consistent cleanliness comes the opportunity for towns to actively market themselves as such to both the tourist and job-creating investment communities.

Hence IBAL’s proposal to introduce a ‘Clean Flag’, whereby those towns which are consistently clean will be accorded a flag which can be used as a marketing tool to communicate to visitors that their area is free of litter.

To have full effect, this will need the co-operation of the Department of Tourism. To inhabitants of the towns too, it can serve as a readily identifiable symbol of pride, perhaps at the entrance to the town, on top of council offices or on promotional literature.

In the great majority of cases, the goal of becoming clean has been achieved, and the routines are in place to ensure we stay clean. Now we just need to ensure everyone knows about it.

* Dr Tom Cavanagh is chairman of Irish Business Against Litter

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