Illegal Dumping: Is the Council's Public Shaming Tactic the Solution?

Illegal dumping “occurs in areas where people are just bad citizens”, Dublin City Council Director of Traffic Declan Wallace said at the council’s environment committee meeting late last month.

Among those areas with a problem is Frankfort Cottages, off Killarney Street in the North Inner City. To combat it, the council recently pasted to the wall images of people illegally dumping garbage there.

It worked: within a day, the problem had ceased, at least for now. And now the council says it is hopes to try the tactic elsewhere.

Wallace was quick to brush off the idea that illegal dumping occurs because people can’t afford to pay waste-disposal fees. It’s nowhere near as prevalent in other disadvantaged areas of the city, he argued.

So why are people illegally dumping here? What can be done? And what do North Inner City residents in the area think of the latest DCC tactic of displaying and shaming the culprits?

Public Shaming

Dublin City Council has tried in a number of ways to reduce illegal dumping in the North Inner City over the last few years.

From February 2014 to March 2016, the council surveyed 160 streets in the area, including 4,702 addresses. It found that only 46 percent of addresses were making proper use of waste facilities and paying waste charges, and issued advisory notices to those that weren’t.

The North Inner City Litter Action Group (NICLAG) has tried to get residents involved in the “Adopt a Street” scheme, which aims to keep roads clean through community efforts. So far, only two streets in the North Inner City have joined.

At the Summerhill end of the North Circular Road, Eoin Rylance descends the steps of his house. Towards the main road, a large metal bin for the individual flats above sits surrounded by black bags that won’t fit inside.

These ones, Rylance says, are overflow from the residents of the house. He has, however, had his share of problems with illegal dumping in the area, he says.

“I think there are people who don’t care and who don’t want to pay waste charges,” he says. “We’ve had people in suits going to work, people who have the money to pay but they dump it on somebody else.”

The problem in the area is due to a combination of factors, he says, but the transfer from council waste management to private waste management has been a big mistake.

“They should scrap the privatisation and get it all back under the council,” he says. “Up the taxes but everybody pays and do like it was years ago.”

Rylance reckons the council should stick with its latest tactic to reduce illegal dumping.

“If people are going to keep doing it you have to shame them,” he says. “They have to be known, people know who they are and they’re going to keep doing it because they think they can get away with it.”

Past the CCTV site at Frankfort Cottages and onto Sean McDermott Street Lower walks Pat Byrne, who swims in the nearby pool everyday. Byrne has lived his whole life in the North Inner City and thinks the bin charges, as well as bad citizenry, are to blame.

“There’s actually people bring rubbish around to here (beside a flat complex) and they fill up the bins because of the bin charges,” he says. “I mean I’ve even seen country plates on the cars.”

He points around the corner to two burnt tires, there since last October, he says.

Black Spots

The North Inner City, according to Irish Businesses Against Litter’s (IBAL’s) reports, suffers from a number of black spots, where bin men rarely tread. One of these black spots was Frankfort Cottages.

At last month’s meeting of the council’s Environment Strategic Policy Committee, council management defended its public display of individuals caught on camera illegally dumping. And they said they have every intention of continuing the policy, despite contact from the Data Protection Commissioner’s office over possible privacy issues.

To some, like Mary, who lives on Killarney Street and didn’t want to give her surname, the images were an unwarranted measure. “It’s horrible for people in the local area,” she says. “Maybe what they’re doing is wrong but I mean, for everybody to see? I think it’s wrong.”

A short walk from another dumping ground, at Rutland Cottages, is Dublin Electric Wholesalers, run by Eric Ronan. For Ronan, the illegal dumping in black spots is a largely down to laziness and attitude.

“It’s a dirty area,” he says. “People come around here with dogs everyday for instance, there’s dog shit all over our paths.”

He says he’s had problems with illegal dumping around the back of his shop. The council, he says, installed a CCTV camera for 30 days recently, but as soon as it was removed, the dumping started again.

Ronan sees the population density of the area as a factor contributing to illegal dumping within the North Inner City; the more people there are, the more bad examples will be set, he says.

Yet he’s sympathetic to those caught in the act. “I’d give them a three-strike rule,” he says. “I’d always give them a chance because it could be your first time dumping and then you’re named and shamed.”

While Ronan says there’s attitude problems and bad examples being set, he, like Eoin Rylance, thinks the “old way was the better system” for rubbish collection.

He says that when items are dumped now, Greyhound often just leaves them there, whereas, when rubbish collection was the council’s job, items were picked up faster. A spokesperson for Greyhound could not be reached for comment about this.

Sheriff Street, which ranked poorly on the IBAL reports from 2015, is the home of Gerry Fay, chairperson of the North Wall Community Association since 1988. Fay reckons the old system was better.

It didn’t stop illegal dumping altogether, but at least collection of abandoned items was on the agenda. “They used to have a general collection every year,” he says. “That’s gone.”

“One of the major issues is the cost,” says Fay. “Greyhound are the main company now that collect the rubbish. You have to buy, say, three plastic bags. What happens then is that they’re €10.90, nearly €11, and because they’re quite flimsy bags, most people end up buying a black bag and putting it outside.”

Fay seems on the fence about the recent CCTV images put up by the council but, he says, “At this stage, what can you do?”

A Continuing Campaign

The IBAL reports, produced by An Taisce, graded streets from A to D, squeaky clean to awfully grimy. Only two sites warranted Ds.

At Gardiner Street, a small abandoned business park was “in a shocking state”, but is now set for demolition. On Rutland Street, “bags and bags of domestic rubbish were strewn about”.

Frankfort Cottages, despite being designated a rubbish black spot by DCC, was in neither of the IBAL reports conducted over the first and second half of 2015.

Dublin City Council could not confirm where the next CCTV images of illegal dumpers might appear but according to Assistant Area Manager (Central Area) Eileen Gleeson, “we intend, if we can, to continue”.

Worker’s Party councillor Eilis Ryan says “the way dumping is being tackled is very much through a policing approach”. She supports the use of the CCTV images, but thinks they should be a short-term measure.

Ryan says increased bin charges and fines for non-compliance have only brought an increase in illegal dumping. “This just wasn’t a problem when you had public waste collection.”

Author:

Cónal Thomas: Cónal Thomas is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer.

Reader responses

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Matthew
at 11 May 2016 at 08:04

I believe the inner city bag collection method is the beginning of a long string of problems. Similar to the well known “Broken Window” theory, I think having streets legally and intentionally strewn with bin bags every week leads a certain mindset that the street is untidy anyway. Thanks to the flimsy nature of the bags, they often split open, spewing their contents over the street for cats and other creatures to pick over. Sometimes (like last week), Greyhound entirely neglects their duties and there are bags sitting at a street corner for a whole extra week.

These might seem like small issues, but I think they add up to a feeling of neglect that encourages further littering or dumping. I wonder if anyone has every studied the feasibility of per-street communal bins for areas currently served solely by bag collection.

By the way, regardless of all this, I still think illegal dumpers being shamed is a decent idea.

Innaminna
at 11 May 2016 at 09:36

I totally agree with Matthew.

I would also like to add on that front that not having proper street cleaning is adding to the problem. When people feel the area is dirty anyway and that the authorities don’t care enough about them to keep their area clean, they think why would I bother and are less likely to value themselves enough to do it for themselves.

In my area which is very quiet, residential, Harold’s Cross/Kimmage/Terenure area, there isn’t too much littering going on and we have bin collection rather than bags, but I’m the only one who goes out and picks up stuff that has been dropped by passers through or fallen out of recycling bins. I watch the street cleaning machines drive down the middle of the road once a month, completely ineffective due to all the parked cars.

Growing up in the UK I remember clearly the fact that every 2nd week we had to move the car to one side of the road or the other at night, the side would alternate. This was so the street sweeping machines could drive unimpeded down the side of the road. There was also a person who would travel with it and jump down and sweep stuff into it’s path as needed. Nowadays, there could be a licence plate camera on the front, so any car not complying would automatically get a fine, it doesn’t have to be a big one, say a tenner initially, but it goes up to a large one after the third time in a row, or something like that.

If we had this in place, I believe it would automatically put people into a place of personal responsibility, it’s regular enough that it would become more habitual and normalised, and it would also be a regular reminder that we do see something for our taxes (which a lot of people have difficulty with seeing). People would feel like their neighbourhood mattered to society at large and therefore they personally matter, so would be more likely to value their neighbourhood more highly.

Séan Billings
at 11 May 2016 at 12:00

Illegal dumping adversely affects the quality of life of everyone around. I live in the north inner city and having to help my four year old around piles of rubbish is inconvenient, unsanitary and just downright unpleasant.

There are two reasons this rubbish is there, the first is illegal dumping by people who are trying to avoid paying for waste collection. However you may feel about the concept of private waste collection, dumping it in the street and making life worse for everyone else is is an act of selfish arrogance.

The second reason for uncollected rubbish in the street is down to how private rubbish collection works. My area, like many in the north inner city, uses bags, not bins. The reason for this is that we live in small terrace houses with no front yard. We simply do not have anywhere to put wheelie-bins.

Several companies collect in the area, each company only collects bags bought from them, or bearing their tag. A black sack with no tag is not their problem and will be left there. They will also only collect bags with 15kg or less of rubbish, so an overfilled bag is left there too, as is a recycling bag with the wrong contents, as is a bust bag (this happens a lot as the bags they provide are really quite flimsy).

When Dublin City Council got out of the business of collecting domestic waste they created a new type of waste littering our streets. The waste generated by the untagged/unsorted/overweight/bust bags will not be collected by the private waste companies. It simply sits in the street rotting, often for weeks. Dublin City Council may no-longer consider domestic waste their problem but street cleaning and public sanitation most certainly is. They need to stay on top of this new type of waste, blaming the people who live in the north inner city is not a solution.

By all means name and shame those who dump illegally, but the first priority should be cleaning the streets for majority of us who do not.

dave
at 13 May 2016 at 14:00

I like the sound of the Amsterdam system which has card access to large bins that store waste under the paving and even crush the waste. There is no reason for bags on the street at all.

There should be more of this in the city center as well, with the majority of street waste being easily crushed coffee cups, that are just 99% empty air but in a small bin take up a lot of space.

The shaming idea only worked as no one knew they were under surveillance. They’ll just do it at night covered up from now on. The idea of every street feeling like they are under surveillance 24/7 is hardly a win if you are trying to get people on side.

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