At least €85.2 million was spent on street cleaning and litter management by local authorities across the State this year.
The largest chunk was spent in the greater Dublin area, where €36 million was expended by the four local authorities in the county cleaning up during the pandemic.
Just over €23 million was spent to keep the streets of Dublin city clean, as lockdown measures meant more people were eating and drinking outdoors.
Outside of Dublin, Cork and Limerick had the next highest levels of spending on street cleaning and litter management.
Up to the end of September just under €7 million was spent by Cork’s city and county councils combined and €3 million was spent by Limerick City and County Council up to October 22nd.
Next highest was Galway, with local authorities in the city and county spending at least €2.4 million combined. Galway City Council spent €1.5 million as of September 30th and Galway County Council spent €880,000 as of November 15th.
The county with the lowest spend was Leitrim County Council at just over €164,000 as of October 15th.
The figures were obtained under a Freedom of Information request to all 31 local authorities, seeking their expenditure on street cleaning and litter management this year. Kerry County Council said it had no figures for 2021, and Kildare County Council said it had a budget allocation for the year of €3.4 million but did not say how much of this it had spent.
Dublin’s four local authorities comprised 40 per cent of the total spend during the first 10 months of the year. Some €23 million was spent by Dublin City Council; €4.4 million by Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council; €4.3 million by South Dublin Co Council; and almost €5 million by Fingal County Council.
Last year (2020), street cleaning cost all the local authorities more than €92 million, a slight increase on 2019.
Among those helping to clean up Dublin’s streets are Crumlin Community Clean Up, one of dozens of volunteer litter picking groups across the country.
Dublin City Council provides litter picking sticks, gloves, bags and hoops to the group, which meets weekly. Volunteers then go out to pick the rubbish and leave their bags at a designated drop-off point, which the council then collects.
During the first Covid lockdown in 2020, the group was picking up 80-90 bags of rubbish a week. Changes brought about by the pandemic actually helped their cause, according to one volunteer, Olga Tiernan.
Usually, the group meets at a central location and spreads out. However, during lockdown, equipment and bags were dropped outside people’s homes at a time that suited them, and they stayed within their own area to pick up litter.
Ms Tiernan said this resulted in the group covering more ground. “We were getting 70-80 bags, we had a high of 90 one time. We were covering the entire village of Crumlin all the way up to Dolphin’s Barn.”
She said nitrous oxide canisters (often referred to as laughing gas) are very common. “We have noticed much bigger, industrial cans lately. They are bigger than an average spray can, so that’s worrying.”
The group picks up a lot of bottles and cans and she feels a deposit return scheme could really help. “It’s a way for people to earn a few quid. Currently, its money people are throwing on the ground.”
The introduction of such a scheme is part of the Government’s Waste Action Plan.
According to the National Litter Pollution Monitoring System, a fifth of litter last year (2020) was packaging items such as bottles, beverage cans, cups and wrappers, while just under half of all litter was cigarette butts.
Ms Tiernan, a native of Connemara, said she always noticed litter around Dublin city in general, not just in the Crumlin area.
“There’s no bins in Connemara, but there’s no litter. It’s a very different mentality, you just keep it, your litter is your problem.”
However, she thinks that many people have other serious issues in their life, and litter is the last thing on their mind. “It’s my priority to have clean streets, but it’s not theirs.”