Michael Norton keeps a black bin bag propped up in a nook by the counter of Norton’s Fruit and Veg on Meath Street. It fills up fast.
“The amount of people that come in here and ask if you have a bin,” said Norton, last Friday. “I have to pay €3 per black bag to get rid of it.”
With one lone street bin towards the northern end of Meath Street, about 120 metres away, this part of town is something of a street-bin desert.
As are some other parts of the city on the other side of the river, around North Wall and the residential areas around Oxmantown Road and Arbour Hill, a map of council data shows.
In the last few years, Dublin City Council had a policy of getting rid of bins in places where people were using them for household waste, says Fine Gael Councillor Naoise Ó Muirí.
There were roughly 5,000 bins in the Dublin City Council area when the Litter Management Plan for 2008 to 2011 was drawn up. Now, there are 3,091 street bins and about 100 dog-poo bins, a more recent survey found.
But councillors were against those removals, and the council management seems to have retreated in more recent times, says Ó Muirí, who chairs the council’s environment committee.
The council is now rolling out more new bins, including the smarter Bigbelly solar-compactors with all kinds of possible tech add-ons. Councillors aren’t short on suggestions for places in their constituencies to put them.
At first glance, the map of street bins and dog-poo bins shows something of an east-west divide across the city. Where bins are installed is something that council has been looking at.
Council workers have now tagged and mapped the city’s bins, so the council can better ensure it’s putting them in the right place, said Simon Brock, administrative officer with the council, at a meeting of the environment committee in March.
Dublin City Council policy is to prioritise areas with high footfall, such as areas around shops, schools, major routes and transport hubs, says a report from July 2017.
Sixty-three percent of litter in the city in 2017 was down to passing pedestrians, a litter survey found. (Next on the list were passing motorists and retail outlets.)
That makes the bin desert of Meath Street even more curious. With its rows of neighbourhood shops, market traders, and tourists winding their way from town to the Guinness Storehouse or museums in Kilmainham, the street would fit the profile of a high-priority area.
Last Friday was cloudy but warm, and the door to Norton’s fruit and vegetable shop at number 32 was open onto the street. A light breeze blew through. A day earlier was more gusty, he says.
Rubbish had blown through the door. Norton had watched a council worker edge along the pavement with a litter picker, pinching at one cigarette butt at a time.
“Talk about pissing in the wind,” says Norton. “I was like, ‘Mate, you’re going to be here until next century doing that.'” He laughs.
In a side office at Just Kidz, further down the street, Joan Burke was grabbing a quick lunch while the toddler-clothes shop was quiet.
The council got rid of the bins because people were putting their household waste in them, she says. But they need to be put back in, she says. “There should be bins if they want to keep the place tidy.”
Putting Some Back
Councillors regularly ask about bins in their areas.
In September 2017, Sinn Féin’s Greg Kelly complained about the lack of bins in the south-central area – which he said had been overlooked in favour of parts of the south-east of the city.
Kelly had his eye on some of the Bigbelly bins being rolled out across the city, he said, on Monday. He had wanted some to be trialed around shops in Drimnagh and Ballyfermot, and along Tyrconnell Road in Inchicore.
The bins can be fitted with CCTV, he says. So he though it would be a good idea to use that function to see if the council can video people using bins for household waste. “They would be high dumping areas,” he says.
Instead, though, he saw the new bins were being trialed along the Grand Canal in the south-east of the city.
“It upset me a lot,” Kelly says. “Again, the more affluent area around Baggot Street was given about 15 of these bins.”
Councillors in his south-central area of the city have agreed to put some of their discretionary funding towards bins in their area, says Kelly.
Ó Muirí, who represents Clontarf, says that in his experience, if councillors ask for bins in their areas they will get them.
He’s more conscious of bins not being emptied than of stretches of street without any bins, he says. “I still see bins around the place that are overflowing.”
Dubliners can now scan a QR code stuck to the side of a grey litter bin to let the council know when it is overflowing and needs emptying. They can also report issues on the Fix My Street website.
At the entrance to the Liberty Market on Meath Street last Friday, Teresa and Billy Armstrong were sat on chairs by their market stall and piles of cardboard boxes.
Teresa Armstrong knows where the Meath Street bin is. “There’s none, only right up the top,” she says, pointing to the northern end of the street.
“There is great need for them,” she says. But she doubts they’ll get more bins any time soon.
They’ve a cardboard box by the stall that fills with rubbish throughout the day. When the trading day is over, a council worker comes by and collects the rubbish, she says.
She hugs a mug of tea that Billy has handed to her. “We’re only Meath Street, not Temple Bar,” she says.