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The National Litter Pollution Monitoring System | Summary

TOBIN Consulting Engineers were appointed by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government as the Litter Monitoring Body (LMB) in May 1999 to develop a national litter pollution monitoring system and oversee local authority implementation of it. The main purpose of the monitoring system is to generate, by means of surveys, reliable data to enable each local authority to measure accurately over time changes in the extent and composition of litter pollution in its area, and so provide for more effective litter management planning.

The Local Government Computer Services Board (LGCSB) has also developed a Litter Geographical Information System (GIS) software package to assist local authorities to map potential sources of litter and identify survey locations as key components of system set-up in their areas; the LGCSB also provides technical assistance to local authorities on the GIS system.

In essence, the system requires local authorities to:

i.) identify / map the potential sources of litter in their areas, using Litter GIS software,

ii.) use this data to identify the locations for surveys to determine the composition and extent of litter pollution in their areas,

iii.) carry out "benchmark" surveys,

iv.) carry out further series of surveys annually thereafter, the results of which can be compared to the "benchmark" or previous years' survey results to measure progress in tackling litter, and

v.) complete the appropriate forms for the surveys and forward same to the LMB for analysis / assessment.

The LMB, on receipt of the survey data from local authorities:

vi.) reports back to each local authority with its assessment of that authority's survey data, and

vii.) collates the survey results in a national overview and presents it to the Department.

There are two types of surveys required -

  • Litter Pollution surveys to determine the extent and severity of litter pollution; and
  • Litter Quantification surveys to identify the composition (i.e. the type and origin) of litter pollution prevailing in a particular area.

The average time to conduct either type of survey is 20 - 30 minutes each. Each survey is conducted along 50 metre stretches of road in urban/rural areas.

Local authorities are required to carry out a minimum number of each survey type - they can do more to suit own local needs. Reports are to be prepared on each survey and forwarded to the Litter Monitoring Body for collation/analysis of results; surveys are to be conducted from March - December each year, to meet the deadline of end October for submission of survey data to the Litter Monitoring Body.

The litter quantification surveys identify eight broad categories of litter:

  • cigarette related litter,
  • packaging litter (i.e. takeaway, glass, metal, paper, plastic),
  • food litter,
  • sweet related litter,
  • paper litter (e.g. bank slips, bus tickets, newspapers, magazines etc.),
  • plastic litter (i.e. non packaging litter e.g. plastic cutlery, toys etc.),
  • deleterious litter (e.g. dog fouling, nappies, needles, syringes etc.),
  • bulky litter (e.g. household appliances, furniture, etc.), and
  • miscellaneous litter (i.e. items not covered by the other categories e.g. twine, clothes, fabrics etc.).

Litter Pollution Surveys

Locations for litter pollution surveys are identified using maps produced by the Litter GIS software package as follows:

  • high risk" locations (i.e. in town and city centres, near fast food outlets, outside schools etc),
  • random locations - chosen by a random selection tool under the litter GIS, and
  • locations chosen by local authorities (based on local knowledge).

The litter pollution survey results are expressed as a litter pollution index for the areas surveyed, ranging in value from 1 to 5, as follows:

1. Unpolluted i.e. litter free,

2. Slightly polluted,

3. Moderately polluted,

4. Significantly polluted, and

5. Grossly polluted i.e. level of litter expected after a major sporting or entertainment event.

The initial series of surveys allow local authorities to establish "benchmark" assessments of the extent and composition of litter pollution in their areas; comparison of future survey results with the benchmark surveys will allow progress to be measured. In this way, analysis of survey data will enable each local authority to assess the effectiveness of its litter management strategies on an ongoing basis and ensure the optimum allocation of resources to tackle litter.

The data produced by the national monitoring system surveys allow local authorities to gauge

  • the extent and severity of litter pollution in each local authority area,
  • the types, most likely sources and causes of litter,
  • the changes in litter levels from location to location and over time,
  • the location of litter black spots, and
  • the impact of new anti-litter measures.

Thus, the National Litter Pollution Monitoring System is an environmental management tool that enables local authorities to tackle litter more effectively, by providing a framework for consistent and accurate self-assessment by local authorities - "if you can measure the litter problem, you can manage it".

The System will also consolidate all litter-related data held by local authorities into a single, standardised and documented format; it will be an essential tool for monitoring litter pollution and local authority progress in tackling it.

Litter Management Plans

Another key element of the system has been the assessment by the Litter Monitoring Body of all local authority litter management plans adopted under the Litter Pollution Act, 1997; local authorities are required to review such plans every 3 years. The assessments help ensure a consistently high standard of litter management plans as a basis for future local authority action against litter.

LGCSB GIS Software Package

A Geographical Information System (GIS) package is a computerised mapping technique that allows for the visualisation of large amounts of spatial information. The use of a GIS system is a most suitable method to underpin local authority implementation of the national monitoring system because of the flexibility offered by the system and the fact that many local authorities already employ GIS.

The LGCSB developed a Litter Monitoring GIS package which allows local authorities to

  • implement key mapping activities, and
  • identify survey locations

as part of the national monitoring system set-up in their areas.

The GIS package will also allow local authorities to map a number of other important aspects of their litter management planning, as follows:-

  • the location of all litter bins,
  • cleansing and litter warden routes,
  • premises which have been the subject of prosecutions / convictions,
  • the locations of litter control areas,
  • the location and scores of all their litter surveys.

As such, a GIS package forms a key element of local authority litter management planning.


The National Litter Pollution Monitoring System is an innovative method that will enable local authorities to manage litter in a more systematic and structured manner. The information gathered will provide local authorities and the Department with essential data to facilitate decision making in relation to litter management planning at local, regional and national levels.

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