LAST weekend saw a huge community effort all around the county, as the annual Clean-Up Day took place.
Timed to get our national and local roads in tip-top shape for the summer, hundreds of locals came out in force to pick up, and neatly bag, tonnes of rubbish which had been thrown into our hedgerows, bushes and undergrowth.
And while this great community initiative, backed by the County Council and KWD, shows the great sense of spirit and can-do attitude alive in West Cork today, it also highlights something quite repulsive: the ability of some to continue to destroy our environment.
And it prompts a question that many of us find so hard to fathom: what crosses the mind of a person who opens a car or van window, and throws out their coffee cup, sandwich wrap, takeaway box or plastic bottle?
Or, indeed, an entire bag of their household rubbish.
The sight of roadside littering is no longer an occasional blip in an otherwise pleasant country drive – it is everywhere now, leaving no primary route, no side-road, no scenic spot untouched.
In fact, an un-littered road is now something to remark upon. A colleague noted this week that, during a recent charity cycle from Waterford to Cork, the roads of Waterford were ‘definitely not as littered’ as the roads of Cork.
So, not having ‘as much’ litter in one county as another, is now a badge of honour? When did things get so bad?
I remember, as a young journalist, writing articles about ‘litter blackspots’ in the midlands – isolated, and often remote, areas where you might find some bags of rubbish alongside an old mattress or an oven, usually in undergrowth where they might not be detected for some time.
And then those isolated spots became more common … and began appearing on backroads, and then on side roads, then national roads, and now, suddenly, nowhere is sacred anymore.
We have now begun to dread the ‘hedgecutting’ season when Council staff come out and cut back the overgrowth because we all know it will expose the discarded debris of the winter.
But how does a society get to a stage where even one person thinks it’s ok to throw their rubbish onto the ground? And yet, judging by the hundreds of bags collected this weekend, and no doubt thousands more we could collect if every road was targeted, it’s not just one person who’s intent on spoiling the countryside, and, as a result, our tourism industry.
The scale of the problem suggests there are hundreds among us who think it’s ok to leave the remnants of their snacks and lunches on the roadside, rather than simply bringing them home. Or maybe even an entire week’s refuse. Easier to drive somewhere and throw it out of the car than actually bring it to the dump, or pay for someone to collect it?
So, what’s the solution? Is it education at a young age, frightening children with photographs of the rubbish mountains of Asia? Do we ditch bin charges so people can get their litter taken away for free? Do we blitz the countryside with litter wardens, CCTV and then lobby for stronger legal sanctions for those prosecuted? Do we ensure we have landfill sites, open at sociable hours, in every town and village? Or do we just try and clean up the mess afterwards?
Perhaps it’s all of the above. It is certainly true that prosecutions are few and far between, and there doesn’t seem to be any real deterrent for fly-tippers.
If it saves people money to throw their bags of rubbish in the ditch, and there is no sanction against it, then that is exactly what is going to happen, it seems.
But wouldn’t it be nice to live in a place where people respected the stunning countryside around us, and respected each other enough to want to keep it clean for everyone?