Young GAA players get drinks bottles to combat plastic waste

Some 2,000 children will receive free reusable drinks bottles in a bid to reduce the amount of single use plastic dumped at sports grounds in Mullingar, as part of an €82,000 project to combat littering and illegal dumping.

An allocation of €16,000 is being provided for litter management during the Fleadh Cheoil and €11,000 to clear away 10 tonnes of rubbish from a site in Mullingar, along with the introduction of solar bins and litter picker boards.

Addressing a recent meeting of the Westmeath Environment SPC in Mullingar last Thursday, John Jackson, environmental awareness officer, said the council was working with five GAA clubs, Shandonagh, Cullion Hurling Club, Mullingar Shamrocks, St Loman’s and St Oliver Plunkett’s, to help them to go plastic bottle free.

"We estimate that between the five clubs there are over 30,000 plastic bottles each year being sent to landfill, that’s just kids romping up with bottles of water or other drinks, and they are being dumped in the bins at the clubs," he said.

The council will give every child in those clubs a reusable bottle with the club crest on it and a leaflet encouraging families and friends to move away from single use plastic. Mr. Jackson said parents and Mullingar Tidy Towns committee cooperated in the initiative, for which €5,420 has been provided.

During the fleadh last year, the council managed more than 80 tonnes of waste in a week, and with the help of the Tidy Towns and volunteers, kept the streets clean.

The council have again been granted €16,522 for the fleadh week. Thirty bins will be provided at recycling points from the Green Bridge to Buckley’s SuperValu, along with the larger bins needed during busy periods. Volunteer litter pickers will be in action again.

Mullingar Kinnegad Municipal District has been granted €11,250 for the removal of approximately 10 tonnes of illegally dumped waste at a site in the town. "We won’t announce the name of the site because we don’t want to add to the 10 tonne," Mr Jackson said.

He revealed that the council receive regular requests from the public for solar bins, which compact waste and send out messages when they are full. An allocation of €35,000 will be used to put five bins in the Athlone district, and if they work well, the initiative can be progressed.

There has also been a lot of public interest in litter picker boards – which are going to be provided, complete with litter pickers and bags – at five locations around the county at a cost of €2,268. Initially the boards will be provided at entrances to the greenways in Mullingar and Athlone and subsequently at lakes and other public amenities.

"Brown bins are our Achilles heel in Westmeath," Mr Jackson said as he acknowledged the need to raise awareness about them and food waste separation. Caddy bins and starter packs are to be made available to the public and a social media campaign is going to be launched.

The council will talk to all waste collectors to help them enhance the service and increase brown bin awareness. (Email for your caddy and starter pack.) Funding of €11,310 has been provided.

Cllr Tom Farrell, chairman of the SPC, hoped that the anti-single use plastics campaign would be rolled out to all sporting clubs in the county in the next few years.

A "big GAA man", Cllr Johnnie Penrose said he knew, from cleaning up, the amount of bottles left behind after every game. He said it was incredible and great to see so many children playing sport, but there had to be a way to get rid of the plastic bottles.

Cllr Paddy Hill also welcomed the GAA initiative. "These young people will lead the way in the future in trying to keep our community in better shape than some of us older folks left it," he said. He praised the work done by teachers, and suggested that someone from the council calling to schools might have a great impact.

Jack O’Sullivan, environment consultant, called for reverse vending machines. Customers pay deposits on disposable bottles at purchase, and get it back when they take the empty bottles to reverse vending machines, he explained. He said it was a great idea that worked successfully in other countries, but claimed that the waste management industry was quietly, unobtrusively, but forcefully opposing it.

Mr Jackson assured him that reverse vending machines were coming and envisaged them being installed at retail outlets. It is an initiative that the council would welcome, he said.