Galway City does not yet deserve IBAL's 'Litter Free' Status

I must be living on a different planet to the people in 'Irish Business Against Litter' (IBAL)!
Their recent national survey released yesterday states that Galway City has achieved 'litter free status'.
While respecting IBAL's excellent work in improving litter awareness amongst both the public and local authoritites as well as knowing at first hand the concerted efforts of Galway City Council in cleaning our streets, nevertheless this statement is a total distortion of the facts and creates a false persception of the true situation which can only damage the enviromental campaigning. For how true are IBAL's results in other jurisdictions if the facts in Galway do not match their assertions?
So what areas did they actually visit within the city boundaries?
Yes, there have been improvements in litter over the last year particularly along the major roads and within the city centre. But a litter-free status? Get real!!

Yesterday, I walked around a number of suburban parks and roadways across Galway city. Sadly, I saw a huge amount of bottles, cans and general waste scattered far and wide which has changed little from my own personal survey of a few months ago. See what I found on the website-
So over the Christmas holiday period, I am going to re-visit these same areas that I encountered on my last survey and undertake a direct comparision to see exactly what has and has not changed. I sincerely hope that there has been a significient change...but...

Anyway, below is a letter that I had published in the Galway Advertiser two months ago on this very issue. Hopefully, it gives readers a truer picture of the litter status in the city as well as providing some practical suggestions and policies for rectifying the situation.

"Bush Drinking' & the Destruction of Galway's Green Spaces
"Our green spaces, waterways, seashores, public parks and woods are being destroyed by the debris and vandalism caused by an epidemic of bush drinking that is sweeping across Galway City as it is across the whole country. Over the last 10 years, many local communities campaigned successfully for the preservation and development of green spaces that it was envisaged would be transformed into wildlife habitats and outdoor recreational zones for all ages. But these hard fought victories are now being strangled to death by a layer of bottles and cans, accompanied in many cases by campfires fuelled by branches ripped from surrounding trees, that are appearing in green areas stretching from Barna to Oranmore and in every suburb in between. No area of the city is immune to this anti-social activity. I spent three days in August undertaking a photographic survey of Galway’s parks, forests and waterways and was shocked at the desecration caused. Some of the resultant photos can be seen at . For someone who is actively involved in encouraging our local authority to provide green zones, this is heart breaking. Ten years ago, resident groups persuaded Galway City Council to put in place plans for a public park and woodland along the banks of the Terryland River. Last May, the council adopted a motion to preserve and manage 58 important natural habitats that had being sponsored by the Galway City Development Board, environmental agencies, community organisations, tourism interests and the government’s Parks & Wildlife Service. In the intervening years, thousands of citizens of all ages have planted tens of thousands of trees and plants which also have the added bonus of helping to combat rising global temperatures that are more acute in urban areas due to their higher concentration of greenhouse gas emissions. Wildlife such as hare, rabbit and pheasant are returning to lands not far distant from the city centre. The benefits can be seen too in the increase in passive recreational zones for walking, for school nature field trips as well as in the overall improvement of the city’s aesthetic look particularly in our sprawling concrete suburbia. Nothing less than the very survival of the human race depends in protecting biodiversity that comes with the increased provision of forests and wetlands and the cleaning up of our waterways. But we cannot blind ourselves to the wanton destruction that is taking place every evening in Galway’s green lands. The availability of very cheap alcohol from ever-increasing numbers of retail outlets and the phenomena of warmer temperatures is contributing to an epidemic of bush drinking. The consequences for wildlife are disastrous: cans, bottles, clothes, plastic food wrappings and barbeque debris cover riverbeds and forest floors. Circumstantial evidence exists that leads one to believe that animals, birds and fish are being trapped on-site and eaten. It is not just in public lands that this is occurring; I have seen vast quantities of litter in the grounds of some of our educational institutions. There is now an urgent need for all local stakeholders to work together and play their part in solving this crisis. For instance, the City Council should install anti-vermin (lids) litter bins in our parks, create a new department of Parks Rangers, involve residents/schools more in parks programmes and finally get their act together by actually starting to build suburban multi-activity community centres- it is criminal that thousands of our city teenagers have so few facilities to enjoy at night-times and at weekends. The Garda Siochana should end their softly softly approach to outdoor drinking and put the new reserve force into community policing. The Courts should have those convicted of anti-social behaviour undertake public works within the communities that they have vandalised. Parents and residents should take a more pro-active role in their green neighbourhood. But the Government has a pivotal role to play by ending the embargo on full-time local authority recruitment. Furthermore, the state should follow the example of some other countries by imposing a substantial refundable charge on all drink cans and bottles. This worked well in Ireland in previous decades; I remember as a kid collecting bottles weekly in order to get money to buy comics. The more recent highly successful plastic bay levy was a good example of money talking and improving the environment. Furthermore, is it not time now to consider dramatically reducing the number of retail outlets selling alcohol? In the last few years, every shop and garage seems to have a large off-licence section: some prominent supermarkets seem to consist of little else. The friendly local pub as a social venue is being replaced by the uncontrolled and often unseen open-air gatherings that leave behind such a trail of destruction. Let us not though follow the example of one wild animal, namely the ostrich, by burying our heads in the litter-strewn sand and pretending not to notice anything amiss. Brendan Smith

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