Belfast Telegraph

It's time to make the dirtbags pay for their grime

By Lindy McDowell

Should we treat litterers the way we treat looters? Whatever your views on the more muscular recent sentencing policy of the English courts, there's little doubt that it must have caused a few in the kleptomania community to reconsider where their next 42in plasma may be coming from.

So might a zero(ish) tolerance policy work against litter louts here?

Put it like this - we need to do something before Belfast, like some junk food Atlantis, is buried forever beneath the encroaching waves of chewed gum, fag ends, drinks cans, sweetie papers and polystyrene burger boxes.

The most recent report by the optimistically-entitled Tidy NI shows that, right across Northern Ireland, we're even worse than we were four years ago.

The place is now literally minging. Our streets and recreational areas are wall-to-wall with discarded packaging, butts, half- eaten food, gum, spit and dog dirt.

How has it got this bad?

Fairly obvious, actually. Just about everyone of us has at some point been behind a car whose occupant has suddenly opened a window and chucked out a takeaway wrapper. Or the contents of the car ashtray. Or a used drinks can.You see people walking through Belfast or any other city or town centre dropping sweet wrappers casually behind them. Or in a country park notice a family of dirtbags drive off with a plastic bag full of food packaging - and, in the worst case, used nappies - left behind them.

According to Tidy NI it is costing us in the region of £9m a year to clean up as it is. We can't afford this in economic terms (especially when you factor in the negative impact on our growing tourist trade.)

We can't afford it healthwise either. God knows what bacterial monstrosities are festering on the pavements our children walk upon.

Environment Minister Alex Attwood is talking tough about new powers for councils (to be introduced next year) and how these might help.

Among them are obvious things like council clout to cut down on advertising leaflets being handed out on streets. Bigger fines. And even the possibility of making offenders clean up the streets.

But will even this work?

The whole culture of dropping things at your ass is so deeply ingrained in Northern Ireland it's going to take more than a 75 quid fine to scare hardcore offenders.

It's going to take a seismic shift in attitudes. Surely it would help if the authorities signalled that all grime is a crime?

Clean up the graffiti, clamp down mercilessly on the fly posters, make an example of the litterers, round up the dog poo offenders.

But also do common sense things like make it easier for people to dispose of their rubbish in city and town centres and at beauty spots and parks.

In a word - bins.

How often have you walked for miles trying to find a bin that was available or at least capable of receiving incoming?

So many litter bins are far too small for purpose. They're inevitably already overflowing when you want to stuff something else in.

Is this part of an official strategy to force us to take our rubbish home - where our litter may well become another council area's collection problem? We know that councils are being hit hard over the amount of rubbish they're sending to landfill.

Is it too cynical to think that litter on the streets and hedgerows is seen as a viable alternative to racking up higher landfill fines?

That in a mucky, roundabout way, grime does pay?

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