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Call for more fines as even the Covid lockdown fails to make an impact on level of litter on Northern Ireland's streets


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An all too common sight, even during these unprecedented times

An all too common sight, even during these unprecedented times

Action urged: Dr Ian Humphreys

Action urged: Dr Ian Humphreys

An all too common sight, even during these unprecedented times

Streets here are just as dirty as they were before lockdown, it has emerged.

Surveys by an environmental charity also found that discarded PPE, flagged early on as a new potential scourge on marine life, was less prolific than first feared.

Earlier this year Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful revealed that more than 1.3m pieces of litter were on our streets at any one time - about 28 tonnes of rubbish.

Chief executive Dr Ian Humphreys said the pandemic was a chance for people to reset their behaviour. But he fears our ways have not changed.

He believes the number of fines dished out needs to treble to have a real impact.

"Early indications are the cleanliness of our streets is not much different from before the pandemic," he said.

"People have shown huge care for other people during the pandemic, so extending that care to the environment is also caring for ourselves and our neighbours.

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Action urged: Dr Ian Humphreys

Action urged: Dr Ian Humphreys

Action urged: Dr Ian Humphreys

"The trick for us is how do we appeal to the best in the people who are dropping that litter."

Every year Keep NI Beautiful asks 1,000 people face-to-face if they litter. Usually about a quarter admit to it. But this year almost half of those who took the survey online said they did.

Dr Humphreys wants more fines for littering.

About 3,000 penalties are imposed annually, but he would like to see that number triple.

He said: "That would have a very real impact if we fined more people. People have by and large stopped drink-driving because there was a consequence. We have to bring that same effort to bear."

Erin McKeown from Ulster Wildlife said the impact personal protective equipment litter will have on marine life is unknown.

Last week a study revealed our coastline was littered with more than 500 pieces of rubbish for every 100 metres. She said: "PPE is a totally new type of litter ending up in our oceans that we didn't have last year.

"We're seeing an increase in the amount of plastics in the marine environment.

"We are gathering them as quickly possible, but once they start to break and disintegrate, that will most likely essentially lead to some serious damage."

The charity has had to cut down on its litter picks and suspend school programmes because of the pandemic.

This month it is tailoring its plastic-free July campaign for Covid-19, encouraging people to wear a reusable mask and choose cafes serving takeaways in compostable containers.

She said: "We're all very much aware that precautions are necessary and rightfully embraced.

"Hopefully raising awareness soon will start to get people thinking about it: 'This is another single use plastic, what can I do?'

"If we all work together and everybody makes that change, it will build up."

Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful's survey estimated the annual clean-up bill for litter is around £45m.

It found that, after cigarette butts (481,000), soft drink cans were the next most common bit of litter with 135,000 pieces on our streets.

A further 115,000 crisps packets and sweet wrappers were thrown away.

Number of cigarette butts that lie discarded on our streets at any one time, the leading form of littering

Belfast Telegraph