TIME TO COME CLEAN?

26 August 2010 No Comments by The Northern Standard

At a time when a considerable effort is being made to enhance the urban environment of Monaghan Town, the negative publicity for the county capital generated by its being ranked 47th out of the 53 towns surveyed in the annual Irish Businesses Against Litter league table published this week arrives inopportunely (see story, Page One).

The IBAL survey is not, we would suggest, the most authoritative analysis of the cleanliness or otherwise of the towns upon which it chooses to cast its spotlight. It has long been a criticism of this particular body’s activities that the methodology it employs for adjudication purposes appears to be kept wilfully obscure. One has to be careful in assigning too much weight to a ranking system which accommodates often preciptious changes of fortune between one survey and its successor. If a town can be in the top ten in one league table, only to plummet to the depths in the next, it suggests that the means employed to determine placings is at least somewhat arbitrary and inconsistent.

Nonetheless the survey is useful in focusing public attention on the need for a much more concerted and consistent community commitment to curbing the problems of litter in our midst. Local authorities can only do so much – and, as Monaghan Town Councillor David Maxwell emphasised to this newspaper yesterday, the Monaghan authority are already doing a considerable amount, spending in excess of €400,000 annually on its street-cleaning operations. This is a massive drain on the Council’s finances in the current extremely difficult fiscal climate, and is necessitated in the main by individuals thoughtlessly abrogating their own personal responsibility to dispose of litter properly.

Anyone who catches sight of the litter-festooned state of areas of Monaghan in the early hours of weekend mornings and then compares this to the pristine condition they are left in by local authority outdoor staff in order for the town to go about its daylight routine in a salubrious environment would have to give the Town Council considerable credit for its efforts in this regard.

Tidy Towns activitists in the town whose energetic volunteerism also reaches prodigious levels may similarly feel a little aggrieved by the IBAL condemnation. Not all the findings in the Monaghan report are negative, however, and the Tidy Towns group can take pride in their enhancing contribution to those areas of the town that come in for commendation.

In a reaction to Monaghan’s performance, local Tidy Towns secretary Emer Brennan commendably interprets the findings as “a call to action”. One of her comments in particular cuts to the core of the problem: “Litter is entirely preventable,” she states, “if we have the social will and community spirit to deal with it properly.”

The need for that spirit to manifest itself is not confined to our own backyard, as it were. One of the major problems which those battling to stem the tide of litter in Monaghan Town have to contend with is the outrageous behaviour of motorists who discard fast food receptacles and other detritis from their vehicles heedless of the environmental damage they are doing to the precincts of where it falls. Since the development of major by-passes in the county, several of our towns have to contend with an escalation of this activity around their outskirts. The mess it creates represents a particularly disheartening drain on the human resources of those who labour, paid or unpaid, to keep our towns tidy. It would be particularly pleasing to see a system of monitoring introduced that would bring at least some of these culprits to account. Undoubtedly, those responsible would be outraged if litter was deposited in such a cavalier fashion in the place where they lived.

Such a practice corroborates the uncomfortable realisation that the principles of social will and community spirit cited by Ms Brennan are selectively exercised by a great many of us. And until that situation improves, the curse of litter in its many forms will remain with us.

A particular pernicious manifestation has come to light in Mid-Monaghan this week with the widespread dumping of wornout tyres, many of which have been found on roadside farmland (see story, Page One). It has become a flourishing criminal activity for bogus hauliers to collect waste tyres for a fee on the pretext of recycling, only to illegally dump them in some secluded location, leaving an unfortunate landowner or local authority with the highly costly and highly inconvenient headache of dealing with their mess.

Stringent enforcement powers are at the disposal of local authorities to tackle this and other forms of illegal dumping, but the problem is catching the culprits in the act. Our countryside communities will undoubtedly be on the alert for the tyre dumpers over the coming months but, despite commendable schemes being mooted along the lines of our existing rural Community Alert initiatives, it will be surprising if any of the perpetrators expose themselves to the chance of discovery and subsequent prosecution.

That is not to say that nothing can be done to cure the malaise of litter. If the full impact of the criminal law were brought to bear consistently and forcefully against those who might be detected of the large-scale dumping of tyres or other offending material, the deterrent effect might be enough to curb this manifestation of the problem – although the penalties imposed would have to be on a scale sufficiently high to outweigh the financial allure of engaging in such a practice.

As for the individually less severe but incrementally just as injurious incidences of litter being thoughlessly discarded here and there about our urban and rural locales, it is time for both individual and collective responsibility to be assumed. Each and every one of the readers of this newspaper could do just a little bit more to keep our own working or living space cleaner. In the communities in which we live, there are no shortage of opportunities to contribute meaningfully and actively to clean-up initiatives or environmental enchancement works. We should avail of them.

But perhaps the most significant contribution of all to curbing the litter habit is to voice our intolerance of it. If littering in all its forms became as socially abhorrent a practice as drinking and driving, for example, it would go a long way to reducing its occurrence.

The inclination towards social conformity is inherent in all of us, and if it can be stimulated by a clear and consistent anti-litter message then good and lasting habits of litter prevention should take widespread hold. Certainly the scandalous practice of throwing rubbish out of speeding cars to land where it may might lessen in its frequency.

If there is one thing this week’s IBAL survey and the publicity it generated can demonstrate, it is that handing out bouquets and brickbats for litter performance goes only some little way towards the problem’s control. Until a spirt of collective responsibility animates both national and community responses to the scourge, it will continue, weedlike, to flourish.

Isn’t it time, then, for us all to come clean…?

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