‘I know very quickly what type of bag will have the evidence that we need to secure a court appearance’
In recent weeks the Meath Chronicle has been highlighting the issue of illegally dumped waste across the County. The recent wildfires at Frayne Bog in Kildalkey exposed just how much rubbish is being ditched in our precious countryside. In 2016 the costs of cleaning up waste in Meath was €2.4m, last year it down slightly to €2.3m.
Last week GAVAN BECTON spent a morning with Ashleigh Daly, a community and litter warden with Meath County Council working at the coalface of a litter and dumping ‘epidemic’.
“We’ve got something here.. it has a name and address, yes this will work, this will be a court appearance.”
There’s an air of relief in Ashleigh Daly’s voice. She’s sifted through over 50 black bags of rotting waste in the search for evidence that could potentially link the illegally dumped rubbish back to its origins. There’s only a handful of bags left to be loaded onto a waste removal truck when she makes the precious discovery.
The location for the search is a secluded access laneway just off the M3 in Gainstown, Navan. The development of the motorway created dozens of such lanes and quiet locations for cars and vans to easily unload rubbish out of sight. There’s over 60 bags of waste in the lane. Mercifully, nearly all the bags are sealed but this is rarely the case.
Malachy Muldoon works with Panda Waste and he’s positioned his truck in the lane between the lines of black sacks strewn on either side of the lane. There’s an old armchair thrown up against the crash barrier too.
The refuse bags look like they have been stored somewhere before being dumped here so now the decomposed and contaminated contents are only fit for landfill. An estimated 80 per cent of the bags’ content was eligible for recycling.
“This is what we see all the time,” says Ashleigh (32). “The majority of what is here is suitable for recycling but it just gets binned and dumped. By going through this rubbish I can see quite literally what people have had for their breakfast, dinner and tea. I can see their bank statements, their ESB bills. We’ve seen cardboard packaging for 55” TVs dumped in ditches. If you can afford that type of TV surely you can afford to recycle the cardboard,” she says before slicing into another bag. Ashleigh, who is the litter warden for the Kells and Navan area, knows almost immediately if it will give up any secrets and if not, quickly discards it to the mounting pile on the waste collection truck. (The complete load will cost €600 to properly dispose of).
Only in the role since April, Ashleigh says the job is both challenging and frustrating but it’s one she is clearly passionate about. “It’s destroying our environment, our lands and our waters and I have no time for it or people who do this.
“We never know what we’re going to see until we get out there, it could be two or three bags of rubbish or it could, as in this case, be 50 or 60 bags. We may not see this volume of rubbish daily, but we certainly see it weekly. There is absolutely no excuse for it. It is quite literally an epidemic at the moment and what we are seeing today is quite typical of that.
“People are literally passing recycling centres to throw bags of rubbish out on the side of the road and sometimes into private property, it’s never ending across the County and I’m sure it’s the same countrywide.
A lot of emphasis has been placed on the waste collectors who use social media to advertise their services but Ashleigh believes it’s a combination of these fly-tippers and homeowners taking their own bags of waste from under their kitchen sinks and tossing them from car windows into ditches that are to blame.
“Ignorance is no excuse, people have to realise that their rubbish has to go somewhere. If your domestic waste is of no use to you, it’s of no use to anyone else. Fair enough if it’s scrap metals but what about all the other stuff you’ve put out on a roadside for collection, what happens to that? That rubbish has to go somewhere and [bogus collectors] are certainly not going to pay a recycling centre or a fee to dispose of it properly. What they are going to do is to throw it on the side of a road so the ‘see no evil, hear no evil’ attitude just doesn’t cut it.”
Over 60 bags of waste were dumped in Gainstown, Navan last week.
“We don’t know if this is a bogus collector or if some homeowner has stockpiled the rubbish and decided to load up a trailer and dump it here but we consider whoever’s name and address is contained in these bags responsible. It’s getting the message out to people that you cannot just give your domestic waste to unlicensed operators or dispose of it yourself in this manner.”
“What I’m looking for is a name, an address and a date and given the volumes here today, we’re talking about a lot more than a €150 fine, this is a court appearance. There is nothing more frustrating than going through this amount of rubbish and not finding evidence, I’ll be checking thoroughly and hoping to find something.
The 32-year-old who also acts as dog warden smiles wryly as she throws another bag onto the truck’s flat-bed for inspection and hears the chinking of glass. It reveals empty vodka bottles, plastic drink containers and cardboard beer boxes, all of which were recyclable.
Ashleigh inspects each bag of waste for clues.
In another bag, old Christmas decorations are found, alongside plastic plates with rotting food still stuck to them. Clothes, nappies, cans, electronic goods, waste paper and decomposing foodstuffs. In the summer heat, the stench is foul but it all has to be checked.
“When the litter warden arrives out, we go through it, we try to find evidence and given the volumes of rubbish here today we’d be hopeful of finding some documentation that will help us identify the people responsible. We will then take that to issue fines or court appearances.
On this occasion, hopes of finding the evidence required are fading as the last of the bags are thrown onto the truck until finally, one bag reveals some hidden treasure. It’s a Western Union money transfer receipt with all relevant personal details included.
Malachy uncovers a packet with a name and address.
“So, we’ve been here about 30 minutes and we’ve opened this bag and we have found a name and address which is fantastic, I’m absolutely delighted with that. It makes going through all this rubbish worthwhile. Sometimes you have to search right down to the last bag.”
Indeed, that very last bag also throws up a lead. It’s a delivery packet for an online clothes shop and has the name and address (which is local) of the recipient.
“These are two vital pieces of evidence we’ve found and there will be court proceedings issued on foot of these,” says Ashleigh.
With the final bag tossed into the truck, there’s no trace left of the disgusting mess created here by people with zero regard for their environment. For Ashleigh and Malachy and the community and litter warden team however, there’s little time to think about that. Another job awaits.
Community Warden Ashleigh Daly and Caroline Corrigan, Senior Executive Engineer with Meath Co Council Environment Services.
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