St. Patrick’s Day: Driving the Littering Problem Out of Ireland

By: Gabriel Ware

St. Patrick is the protagonist of a story that every child and adult in Ireland has grown up hearing. The man who, legends say, brought Christianity to Ireland, used the shamrock to explain the holy trinity and allegorically drove the ‘snakes’ from the land. Perhaps, if the tales are true, he must be thanked for a great deal of the early Irish infrastructure, as he established the first places of worship, spirituality and education on the island, around which villages and towns were built, paths and roads were laid, and a new sense of Irish identity was produced. As a truly global celebration, the world now thanks St. Patrick for his hand in contributing to the forging of Irish culture, while simultaneously celebrating Irish culture –and people– in general. Yet, now, there is another troubling problem which plagues the land, which could well do with another banishment of St. Patrick’s proportions.

Litter might often seem a minor problem, almost inconsequential in comparison with the apocalyptic challenges that face the rainforests of South America or South East Asia, half-way across the world, or the critical global problem of greenhouse gas emissions. However, litter is a very direct form of pollution of the land and the oceans and forms the huge amount of plastic waste disposed of on a daily basis. This contributes to the deaths of more than one million animals per year. Especially important to us now should be the prevention of future disease or virus outbreaks, yet litter facilitates the spread of both through both direct and indirect contact.

More and more litter is accumulating in Ireland’s towns. More litter is being left on the streets than last year, and more was left in that year than the year before. It is concerning that, even in large cities such as Dublin and Galway, where city centres represent major tourist and commercial centres, streets are increasingly defaced by litter. The Covid-19 pandemic has played an important role in the growth of littering; a nationwide study showed that 2020 produced the lowest number of towns or cities deemed clean since 2007, 20% lower than 2019. Contributing to this has been the increase in outdoor socialising, PPE and coffee cup littering, an issue which has not been counteracted by a necessary increase in cleaning by local authorities.

In order to tackle this growing problem, projects such as Picker Pals are doing invaluable work in providing education and community engagement. Volunteer efforts by communities or individuals can make the world of difference, and there is little doubt that after lockdown restrictions end Ireland will see an increase in voluntary efforts outside of the home. Understandably, many are currently fearful of coming in contact with objects thrown on the street but with the proper precautions, safe litter-picking can be engaged in. However, even once normal service has been resumed, more can and should be done. After all, St Patrick’s day is the day of green; it is only fitting then that it is used as an example of how the world can move towards a greener future. We inherently connect the colour green, for obvious reasons, with our conceptions of nature, ecology and the environment, and have done for centuries. Equally the colour is inseparable, perhaps more than any other nation, from Ireland; the Emerald Isle is ubiquitous with its lush verdant vegetation, which has inspired a great many poets and artists throughout the centuries.

This connection has not gone unnoticed in today’s world. Since 2010, famous landmarks have been lit up in green on Saint Patrick's Day as part of Tourism Ireland's "Global Greening Initiative" or "Going Green for St Patrick's Day”– perhaps you might have seen the Sydney Opera House and the Sky Tower in Auckland lit green in 2018, or the Calgary tower all the way back in 2009 as part of the environmental non-profit organisation Project Porchlight’s campaign. Although initiatives such as this are useful in raising awareness and fundraising for general environmental efforts, much more can and should be made of the day, and that starts with people like you and I. St. Patrick’s Day can become not only a day of celebration, but also a day to remember what each of us can do to improve the world around us. That might start with learning more about what you can do to help. It might start with engaging in one of the many community-based projects that exist in every town or city, or it might start with remembering not to discard that mask or coffee cup the next time you are out for a walk.

By: Gabriel Ware

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