Around one in seven of Northern Ireland’s streets and parks failed to meet the accepted standard for litter last year, it has been claimed.
That was despite local councils spending £43,285,212 on cleaning during the period — a rise of more than 8% on the previous 12 months.
Environmental charity Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful, which surveyed 1,100 sites across the province, said 15% of them had a “widespread distribution of litter with minor accumulations” or worse.
The worst affected places were industrial estates, where more than one in three sample sites failed to meet the required standard.
By contrast, 99% of low-density housing areas were rated clean or very clean, with 14% of those completely free of any litter.
Chris Allen, who manages the survey for Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful, said that councils’ cleaning departments were under great strain.
“It’s clear from the data that councils are struggling to keep pace with people’s irresponsible habits,” he explained.
“They’re being forced to spend a totally unsustainable amount of ratepayers’ money — our money — on treating an entirely preventable problem.
“The average annual charge to every ratepayer in the country is around £58.”
The survey also found, however, that there had been signs of improvement in dog fouling.
The number of sites with the problem dropped from an average of 11% over the previous four years to 6% last year.
One in five sites in public parks still had dog fouling, and 3% of children’s play areas.
But that was still a significant improvement over the 2015 survey, when 10% of children’s play areas were found to have dog excrement in them.
Among the other findings were that although a lack of handy bins is often cited as a reason to drop litter, more than two out of three sample sites in city and town centres and other retails areas had at least one bin. Of all the retail sites that were considered unacceptably littered, 63% had at least one bin, with one site having four bins available — one approximately every 12 metres.
In parks and play areas, 85% of sites had a bin, including 81% of the sites that were deemed unacceptably littered.
Councils are investing in anti-litter education initiatives such as Live Here Love Here, a campaign supported by seven of the 11 councils, the Housing Executive and the Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, as well as businesses such as Coca-Cola and Choice Housing.