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Environmental charity, Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful has released its annual Cleaner Neighbourhoods report, which reveals a snapshot of the local environmental quality of all eleven council areas across Northern Ireland. While the overall picture of the streets has slightly improved after a worrying spike during the lockdowns of 2020, drinks packaging, including plastic bottles and disposable coffee cups, continues to be a major problem, with rural roads being disproportionately affected.

The report also recommends the use of nudge behaviour from councils to encourage the public to use bins where available. The number of areas surveyed that failed to meet acceptable standards of cleanliness is revealed within the report, down 3% from last year’s results with 15% of the areas surveyed now below standard. Dog fouling has also returned to pre-pandemic levels, following a dramatic increase in 2020, with instances of dog fouling recorded down 7% from last year to 6%.

Commenting on the report, Charmaine Beer from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs said, “Whilst payments for ground litter by producers of packaging are not currently planned for Northern Ireland, they will pay costs for the management of packaging in street bins and will also pay for prevention activity for littered packaging such as communication campaigns targeting litterers. Under the new Extended Producer Responsibility scheme payments will be made by packaging producers to NI councils for management of household packaging waste from 2024, which will amount to £35million per year in NI. There will be clearer binary labelling on all packaging from 2026 to help consumers recycle correctly and plastic flexibles and film will have household collection for recycling from 2027. All of these will provide a great incentive to do the right thing.”

The findings from this year’s survey took a close analysis of litter related to food packaging, particularly drinks, with plastic bottle, hot drinks cups, lids and straws found in 50% of the areas surveyed. Most surprisingly, 90% of rural roads featured littered drinks packaging and cigarette butts remained the top item of litter found in NI, with 65% of all areas surveyed having so form of cigarette litter present.

Dr Ian Humphreys, CEO of Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful, said, “With the environment once again on the top of the agenda as COP27 is underway, we are reminded that action is required globally and here in Northern Ireland.

“The amount of litter we are now having to deal with is extremely concerning – it’s not only unsightly but it has a real impact on council budgets, wasting money that could be spent on other public services and helping deal with the cost-of-living crisis. There’s no evidence to suggest that human nature has fundamentally changed over the past number of decades, but what has changed is the amount of plastic packaging being produced, which grown exponentially over the past 15 years, which is why it’s misleading to lay the problem entirely at the feet of the public. We need to have an honest conversation about this issue and that is why manufacturers and retailers need to step up and take their share of the cost of cleaning up the mess on our streets.”

Although the report reflects the army of litter-picking volunteers across Northern Ireland doing their best to keep our streets free from litter and a safe place for the public to come together, Charity CEO says more needs to be done to try and stop litter at the source.

Ian added, “We are very disappointed in the recent announcement that litter will not be retained in UK wide Extended Producer Responsibility legislation. This means the loss of millions of pounds annually which would have funded clean-up operations and alleviated the pressure on ratepayers. We believe this is a missed opportunity to ensure that packaging producers take on their share of the responsibility for this societal problem.”

For more information and to read the full Cleaner Neighbourhoods report visit: Cleaner Neighbourhoods Report (keepnorthernirelandbeautiful.org)