We're all to blame for litter scourge
Much is made of the natural beauty of Northern Ireland when selling it as a tourist destination, and indeed it has some amazing vistas. Unfortunately, there is one sight that is all too common in every corner of the province - litter.
In most other parts of Europe, even the Spanish Costas with their millions of visitors each year, urban and rural landscapes are generally much cleaner than we experience in this small region.
The charity Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful lays some of the blame on Transport NI and the Rivers Agency for not removing litter from roadsides and along rivers and streams, but it appears this broadside is ill-aimed as neither agency has a statutory duty to lift the detritus dumped by the thoughtless and the careless.
Many people might think that the crisp packet discarded through a car window or the remains of a picnic left at a beauty spot does not cost much to clear up, but the bill is a staggering £40m annually, according to the latest figures.
When we complain about the lack of services provided by councils, we should bear in mind that vital money is being drained away by our own lack of civic pride. Every time we stamp out a cigarette on the footpath, spit out a piece of chewing gum or drop paper or food carry-out packaging at picnic areas or beaches, we are literally wasting our own funds - the money councils collect from ratepayers.
It is encouraging to see that some councils are clamping down on litter louts, with 4,443 fixed penalties being issued, around half of them in Belfast. But in areas such as Lisburn, Castlereagh and Mid-Ulster, enforcement is much more lax, each accounting for less than two per cent of fines issued.
Anti-litter legislation is worthless unless it is enforced and those who deface the streets or countryside are brought to book.
There are many people who care desperately about the environment and keeping the province tidy. The KNIB charity organises a Big Spring Clean every April, and up to 90,000 people take part in lifting rubbish and litter wherever they find it. They do a magnificent job because of their desire to help Northern Ireland put on its best face.
Councils spend a considerable amount of money giving derelict buildings a makeover with fake shop facades. But that is merely papering over the cracks if we cannot keep our streets clean.