Lotta Continua

Rectangular white and blue sign reading Pure Mile No Littering Please on a post at the roadside

I must have cycled past PURE Mile signs hundreds of times before I finally checked to see what they were, who was behind them. PURE (Protecting Uplands and Rural Environments) works to reduce littering and illegal dumping in the Dublin and Wicklow mountains. There’s a welter of local government and semi-state bodies involved, but the litter-picking is mostly done by groups of volunteers. PURE provide the equipment and collect the filled rubbish sacks. The website doesn’t provide any obvious means of getting in contact with nearby groups, which seems like an omission, but after a string of emails and a couple of false starts, Celeste got us on the distribution list for the Friends of the South Dublin Uplands. Largely drawn from a hiking club, the Friends meet every month or two to clean up Military Road, Piperstown Road and Cunard Road, some of my favourite roads to cycle.

Spending an hour or two of a Sunday morning walking the verges and clambering over ditches with a litter-picker and blue rubbish sack in hand gives you pause for thought about your fellow man. I mean, we’ve all had evenings where, faced with the prospect of doing the dishes, it seemed easier to load the lot into the back of a car, drive up into the mountains, and smash the entire dinner service, plate by plate, in a lay-by. I can imagine that in the rosy post-coital glow, it seems less than urgent to retrieve your jocks from the thicket of brambles where you flung them in the throes of raw animal passion. But I struggle to fathom the purblind selfishness behind the most routine littering, the scurf of plastic bottles and coffee cups dropped from the windows of passing cars (unsurprisingly, far heavier on the side of the road outbound from Dublin). I am compiling a list of products that should henceforth be sold only under license, with stringent requirements around traceability and disposal: wet wipes, nitrous oxide canisters, and Red Bull are top of the list.

Nature engulfs some of these alien artefacts impressively quickly — you often step on what appears to be solid turf only to hear the crumple of a plastic bottle, prelude to a couple of minutes wrestling to unearth the errant container. But the rest remain an eyesore, a constant visual reminder of human thoughtlessness and waste. On the last Sunday excursion, I filled nearly three sacks with the detritus scattered along lightly-trafficked Cunard Road, all discarded in the month since the previous pick. It’s satisfying work, but Sisyphean — I’ve passed along our stretch of Military Road a couple of times since and already a fresh crop is sprouting.

Blue plastic rubbish sack with Pure branding, standing on a ditch, mountains in the background
The Blue Bag of Happiness

Thoughts, hopes, exhortations?