Life's a beach | 

Litter louts who leave beaches like junkyards need to be taught costly lesson

“Plastic lasts for thousands of years and we already know that the planet’s seas are being choked from it. On a trip to Thailand three years ago I plucked a supermarket bag out of a lagoon, which seemed to have floated hundreds of miles there”
Litter at Dollymount Beach

Litter at Dollymount Beach

Dollymount litter

Dollymount litter

Eugene MastersonSunday World

Little did I realise that when I took a break to enjoy one of Dublin’s major beaches on what may be one of the last days of sunshine in the current heatwave that by proxy I would become a litter cleaner.

And take a look at the heap of junk I collected in the space of less than half an hour, which I could barely manage to carry to what seems to be the only bin at one end of the five-kilometre-long Dollymount strand.

During the height of lockdown, I used regularly walk up Clontarf promenade for exercise and on towards Dollymount strand, as they were within the designated five-kilometre radius of my home.

During good weather it proved to be a godsend, and in fairness the bins on Clontarf promenade were usually full of litter left by civic-minded people.

Yesterday around 4pm I decided to take a break from work and get a bus for a change to the pier which connects Clontarf to Dollymount strand on Bull island, to save time getting there. I’d usually bring my dog on a walk near there, but it was too hot a day for that for him.

Given it was a workday and lots of people are holidaying elsewhere, there were just a couple of hundred people on the beach and not as many as I’ve experienced before.

Initially I tried to catch a few rays with a bit of sunbathing, but fell foul of pesky flies constantly landing on me – the whole beach strangely seemed to be full of them.

With that I sauntered over to the water’s edge and took off my trainers and socks and walked through the lukewarm water.

Dollymount litter

Dollymount litter

I noticed heaps of seaweed strewn all along the sand and then remembered a conversation I had with an elderly neighbour, who I meet when I’m walking my dog in a local park most mornings. She told me she likes to feed some of her plants with seaweed, and that it is quite expensive. I told her on my last visit to Dollymount there was lots of seaweed (for free) and she said she might pop up sometime.

I had a small rucksack with a towel and a flask bottle of water, but I certainly wasn’t going to put seaweed in that. I thought to myself it was a pity I didn’t have a plastic bag, as I could fill some of it and bring it back to her.

A couple of minutes later what do I come across floating in the water but a large plastic Tesco bag. I dragged it out and then start to fill it with seaweed. Given all this green stuff was wet and mixed with sand, it became quite heavy.

As I walked further down the beach, I came across a plastic bottle. I said to myself I’d pop it in the bag and bring it to the nearest bin.

But it didn’t stop there. Next up I felt guilty that I was leaving a large piece of plastic, which was embedded into the sand, lying there so I decided to pull that out too and bring it with me.

A white trainer lay nearby, so I picked up that too and put it into the bag. A discarded crisp packet, a chocolate wrapper, even a flip flop. It went on and on. So much so I had to discriminate what to put into the bag, leaving paper behind and concentrating on plastic, as I was running out of room and it was getting heavier and heavier.

The thing I kept on thinking of was the thoughts of whales or dolphins and other sea life swallowing this type of material and thinking it’s food. I’ve seen whales and dolphins in the wild, and they are majestic creatures, and then to hear how many of them die because of pollution is so infuriating, with horror tales of many of them being examined afterwards and found to have several plastic bags in their stomachs.

Plastic lasts for thousands of years and we already know that the planet’s seas are being choked from it. On a trip to Thailand three years ago I plucked a supermarket bag out of a lagoon, which seemed to have floated hundreds of miles there.

At first sight Dollymount does not seem to be a major litter black spot, and I wonder if it’s because of volunteers out picking up other people’s rubbish, as during my walk I noticed it was just the odd piece of junk here and there, but still an obvious problem.

But very more than likely thought the majority of the litter had been cleared by diligent city council workers – their colleagues in Fingal County council spent six hours clearing 10 tonnes of rubbish from Burrow beach in Sutton on Monday after the weekend. Other beaches throughout the country were similarly destroyed, leading to some politicians calling for zero tolerance on litter louts.

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Last week I came across a man on Clontarf promenade with one of those metal litter pick- up devices, putting bits and pieces of garbage into a bag as he strolled along. “Fair play to you”, I exclaimed as I passed him by.

As I did a U-turn on my hour long walk I noticed no bins at all on the majority of the beach, or from what I could see. I’ve heard reports that the local council tell people to bring their own rubbish home with them, but try telling that to many of those visiting this wonderful natural amenity. Yes, much of the litter there washes up from other places. But what riled me most yesterday was a group of people left three empty cans, two of them still standing in the sand, right near the water and were either too lazy to bring them home or else just didn’t care.

When I went to primary school during the 1970s we had a class called Civics. During this lecture kids were taught the likes of patriotism, respect for elders and also how not be a litter bug. Those classes were phased out in the 1980s, which is shameful as many people are brought up with no respect for the environment or for others.

Another neighbour of mine once told me that 30 years or so ago there used to be a warden in Fairview Park who would go around and remonstrate with people who were littering. That seems to belong to a bygone age.

There are TV warnings about throwing gum on the ground and that you will get a €150 fine. Really? I’ve never once seen a litter warden on any of our public streets, parks or beaches. Whatever about fly-tipping, there seems to be absolutely no punishment for litter louts who discard their junk without a care in the world on our paths and beaches.

The clean-up of Burrow Beach in Sutton today. Photo: Padraig O'Reilly

The clean-up of Burrow Beach in Sutton today. Photo: Padraig O'Reilly

We have a green Minister for the Environment in the form of Eamon Ryan. Perhaps he should be taking a more proactive role to cease and desist the scourge of litter louts?

Anyway, back to Dollymount strand. When I got to the car park I thought there would be a few bins located in the vicinity, but eventually found just one near the exit, which looked more like a giant bottle bank, but had a sign encouraging people to leave their waste there. I dumped the junk I collected into its cavernous void.

There is no facility there to wash your hands or feet (I’m pretty sure there is at Portmarnock, where there are also lots of bins on the promenade).

So, I then had to queue what seems to be the only toilet facility at the beach, which a unisex electronic WC which costs 30c to use (if you only have €1 or €2, or in my case 50c, it gives no change).

The reason I wanted to wash my hands was because I didn’t bring sanitiser and given the current pandemic it was obviously wise to be hygienic, given I was picking up other people’s rubbish.

I know several people who regularly go out and do clean-ups of scenic and public places purely out of the goodness of their own hearts.

The likes of these worthy volunteers are the decent flip side of the coin, with the other being shameless and selfish people who care only about themselves. It’s surely time to teach them a lesson, and a costly one at that.


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