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Trash talk

An Cailín Rua

Sometimes I sit down to write this column and I wonder to myself, is there anything at all good happening in the world? I feel like I spend a considerable amount of time writing about the bad stuff when the reality is, there is lots to smile about.
For instance, last week I went on holidays. To Spain, just for a few short days and it was glorious, not least for the weather. As it’s been January in Ireland for about eight months now, it felt odd walking around Barcelona in shorts, particularly with all the Spaniards wrapped up in coats and scarves giving us funny looks. Hey, it was over 20 degrees, and for a redhead, that’s tropical.
I left the phone in the hotel, ignored emails, read books, drank wine and honestly, didn’t think about the rest of ye for a minute. But all good things come to an end and normal service must resume, which means that I have things to give out about.
Barcelona is a lovely city. It has a grid system, which means some thought went into the planning of it, unlike most Irish towns (Westport aside, of course!). It has a public transport system that functions healthily – imagine! – and it has some very nice architecture. It has an incredible food scene with the most vibrant food markets that Ireland, an aspiring foodie destination, can only dream about (I’m guessing regulations here have a lot to do with that). But most of all, it’s strikingly clean.
There are bins everywhere, into which people segregate their rubbish, according to whether or not it’s recyclable. The bins are open, which clearly means they don’t have a problem with people dumping their domestic rubbish into street bins.
Not once did I spot a dog doing his business on the street without an owner brandishing a poop scoop. Mind you, there’s plenty of graffiti, but depending on your perspective graffiti is also street art, and I’d rather people put their energies into creating stuff than engaging in more destructive behaviour elsewhere.
What’s also lovely is the way public spaces are utilised – a feature of many towns and cities on the continent.
They are social spaces; it’s not uncommon to walk down a city street and find a small playground in the middle of it. They are spaces that facilitate socialising, community engagement, street theatre, or just a natter with the neighbours. People live in their town centres.
Perhaps Barcelona just hides it well, but here, it sometimes feels like we are drowning in a sea of our own rubbish. Everywhere you look, there is litter; in our gutters, streets, ditches. Our rural areas are stained with it. The local authority does what it can, but with ever-decreasing resources, it is losing the battle outside of the main urban centres, and the problem is becoming catastrophic.
It’s not hard to see why when everything is packaged to the hilt in disposable materials – plastic abounds. Even in our households, a simple grocery shop yields bags full of unnecessary packaging. Why, for instance, is it necessary to wrap a bunch of bananas in a plastic bag? Don’t they come packaged already?
It’s a culture; one which has to change; both in our own purchasing behaviour and in our callous disregard for our natural environment in the way we dispose of our rubbish.
Happily, there does seem to be a fightback. Keep Cups are a trend now; replacing disposable coffee cups, and if cafés and shops start incentivising their use, it’s a win-win for all. Plastic straws are rapidly becoming a scorned accessory. People are stripping the plastic off their vegetables and dumping it in supermarkets in protest.
New clean-up groups are springing up (a shout-out to the newly formed Killala Tidy Towns) and groups like the River Moy Trust are highlighting the importance of keeping our waterways clean. Beach cleans and ‘plogging’ (picking up plastic while out jogging) are very in vogue. So there is hope for humanity and our sea life.
If only we could stop the scourge of rural Ireland. (No, not the Government. The fly tippers.) Maybe we should just deport them to Spain. They might just learn something.