Shock £43m bill to clear litter in Northern Ireland
More than £43m was spent on cleaning up Northern Ireland's streets and open spaces last year - enough to pay the annual salary of almost 2,000 newly qualified nurses, it has emerged.
The figures - gathered from financial statements and records of enforcement by the environmental charity Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful - showed that the country's 11 councils forked out a whopping £43,285,212 between 2015 and 2016 - a rise of 8% compared with the previous year.
According to the charity's calculations, that's enough to pay the annual salaries of 1,995 newly qualified nurses. It would also cover a substantial amount of the expected £46.2m cost of the new-build Royal Victoria Hospital Maternity Unit.
Meanwhile, the number of people actually caught and fined for littering has gone down by a fifth, from 4,443 to just 3,724.
Just 310 people were penalised for not cleaning up after their dog last year - more than half of them (180) in Belfast.
The total raised by fixed penalities to be set against the cost of cleaning was just £191,530 - less than half of 1% of the total cost.
Over half of these penalties (53%) were issued in Belfast - with just 1% issued in Mid Ulster as well as Lisburn and Castlereagh.
Councils are also investing in anti-litter education initiatives such as the media campaign Live Here Love Here and run local initiatives directly in schools and communities.
Dr Ian Humphreys from Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful, said: "Council staff work day and night to keep our streets clean, but we spend more and more each year just to stand still. And research shows litter costs society the same again, with losses to business and tourism and our health."
The organisation is calling for more people to be penalised for dropping litter. "In a fair society the polluter would pay for the clean-up, but at this rate that would mean that the penalty for dropping a crisp packet would need to be over £10,000," he said.
"Most people don't drop litter. So we need to give the people who do litter a clear signal that their dirty, selfish behaviour is not acceptable. We all have a part to play in encouraging litterers to stop."
He praised Belfast's approach, saying it had "grasped the nettle of penalising litterers for the good of everybody living and working within the council area".
Last week, a report from the Marine Conservation Society revealed that Northern Ireland's beaches had the highest litter density in the UK for the second year in a row.
Four beaches were surveyed in Northern Ireland, including Rathlin Church Bay on Rathlin Island; Browns Bay in Islandmagee, Co Antrim; Ballyhornan Strand North and Kilkeel North, both in Co Down.
A total of 3,854 items were collected from the beaches. An average of 895 pieces of litter per 100 metres was recorded compared to 820 in 2015 - a 9% increase.