In Ballybough on Saturday, 15 residents, masked and in yellow high-vis jackets, wield blue litter pickers, as they start a street clean-up.
The group used to meet once a month but plan to go out every Saturday going forward, says Laura Williams, an organiser of Ballybough Pride of Place.
“We have a fantastic sense of community in Ballybough and people are very keen to keep the area clean,” says Williams, through a blue face mask, via a WhatsApp call.
It’s easy to organise a clean-up group in your local area, she says. Dublin City Council gives the equipment, including high-vis jackets, litter pickers, face masks, bags and gloves.
The council collects the rubbish at the end. Last week, council staff power-washed the streets when the litter collection was over too. “The council is really behind the community here,” she says.
A Dublin City Council spokesperson says that the council supports 250 groups in the city that do community clean-ups and environmental projects.
Council figures show that the amount of illegal waste collected by the council grew steadily during the second half of last year. (But the council probably collected the same amount overall in 2020 as 2019, they suggest.)
Meanwhile, complaints from residents about illegal dumping were much higher in 2020 than in 2019. This was likely because people had more time to report it during lockdown, or an increase in small-scale dumping, according to administrative officer Simon Brock.
Councillors say giving more support to community groups to tidy up streets, and finding ways to encourage that, is a simple way to tackle the problem of illegal dumping.
“This is a really friendly neighbourhood, everyone gets on,” says Williams.
She and those with her – including three young children – laugh and chat as they get down to it. “We wouldn’t do it if we weren’t enjoying ourselves,” she says.
Ballybough Pride of Place covers the streets around Ballybough and North Strand, says Williams.
They pass on equipment to people who want to clean their own streets. Sometimes they go in a big group and look for streets that need attention, she says.
Then they leaflet that street, which helps to get more people involved, she says.
Illegal dumping is a problem everywhere but “small steps forward and we are doing our best to eradicate it”, she says.
Ballybough Pride of Place is also running a council-funded initiative to tackle dog fouling.
They erected metal signs on lamposts to tell people that local shops are handing out free dog-poo bags. “Dog poo is an issue everywhere but it is genuinely working,” says Williams.
Dublin City Council supported more than 5,000 activities by clean-up and environmental groups in 2020, said a council spokesperson.
“This positive cooperative approach works well, benefitting many communities in the city,” says the council spokesperson.
The council also runs the annual City Neighbourhood Competition to recognise the environmental contribution of individuals, groups, schools and businesses to the city.
Green Party Councillor Janet Horner says illegal dumping in the north inner-city seems to have increased in recent months.
More people are definitely complaining to the council about it anyway, according to figures that she received from a council official.
The council received the most complaints about dumping in the Central Area, which takes in the north inner-city. There were 4,580 in 2020, a 26 percent increase from 2019.
There were 4,078 complaints of illegal dumping in the North West Area, up 19 percent from 2019.
Other areas had fewer complaints, but all showed an increase. In the North Central Area, the number of complaints jumped by 39 percent.
Backing up groups like Ballybough Pride of Place is the way to tackle illegal dumping, says Horner.
The North East Inner City Regeneration Office is rolling out changes such as planting trees and greening areas, she says. “It needs to be accompanied with a really strong message.”
She would also like to see a big publicity campaign in the north inner-city and “a street beautification programme”, she says.
The council could fund a rewards system and give hanging baskets to streets that are kept clean. It could run a Tidy Towns-style competition for the best-kept street in the north-east inner-city, she says.
“The scourge of illegal dumping is most prevalent in the Central Area,” says Fine Gael councillor Ray McAdam, who chairs the council’s working group on litter and illegal dumping.
That council administrative area covers Broadstone, North Wall, East Wall, Drumcondra, Ballybough and the north city centre.
The council should do everything in its power to build up and support groups like Ballybough Pride of Place that are tackling the problem in a hands-on way, he says.
He’s also working to resurrect an initiative rolled out before in the north inner-city to name and shame the people doing the illegal dumping.
The council caught the people doing the illegal dumping on CCTV and put up posters of their images. McAdam says that worked well as a deterrent.
It made a “massive difference” in Phibsboro and North Strand, among other places, he says.
The problem was that capturing the person’s image on CCTV and creating a poster without their permission was not GDPR compliant, he says.
He doesn’t agree with the law. “Data protection in my view is protecting illegal dumpers,” he says. “There is a thing called the common good here.”
The working group – made up of councillors from across the political spectrum and council officials – is getting advice from a lawyer to see what changes would be needed to the law for CCTV footage to be used that way, he says.
McAdam hopes to get cross-party consensus on the issue within the council and then propose changes to the national government, he says.